Monday, 24 November 2008
THE OUTBOARD BOYS AT SHARK RIVER
Solving the Secret of Mystery Tower
BY ROGER GARIS
THE OUTBOARD MOTOR BOAT SERIES
BY ROGER GARIS
THE OUTBOARD BOYS AT MYSTERY ISLAND
Or, Solving the Secret of Hidden Cove
THE OUTBOARD BOYS AT SHADOW LAKE
Or, Soloing the Secret of the Strange Monster
THE OUTBOARD BOYS AT PIRATE BEACH
Or, Solving the Secret of the Houseboat
THE OUTBOARD BOYS AT SHARK RIVER
Or, Solving the Secret of Mystery Tower
[This series has now been reprinted and is available at my bookstore. http://stores.lulu.com/store.php?fAcctID=1329324]
CHAPTER I The Fire Alarm
APRIL came in that year as though it hadn't yet gotten over the effects of March. It was blustery and cold. Especially early April. Terry Blondel had just come home from the movies, and as he went to his room he saw that all the windows were open. He stuck his head out and gazed at the bright, cold stars.
"Boy!" he said aloud. "More like winter than spring! And Martin thinks we can take our boat out on the lake this Saturday. We'll need fur coats, that's what!"
Martin Hazzard, Terry Blondel, and Warren Finn were joint owners of a small houseboat with an outboard motor. It was stored in Demerest's boathouse, on Lake Otter, and the three boys were anxious to get it running again. They had had many exciting adventures in the Watermar II, as it was called, and looked forward to more. The name Watermar was derived from the first parts of the three names—WArren, TERry, and MARtin.
For some minutes Terry stared at the night sky. Then, as he grew chilly, he withdrew his head and made ready for bed. School in the morning. Had to be on the job. But vacation was on its way—vacation, and motorboating on Lake Otter, and perhaps some more strange adventures in strange places.
Yay! About two more months and they could do as they pleased. Terry was thinking about the summer as he turned out the light and hopped between the covers. Pleasant to think of, summer. Nice warm days. The Watermar II ought to be in fine shape. Where would they go in her?
Terry remembered their first summer of outboard boating, when, with the Watermar I, they visited Misty Island, or, as it was known to natives in that section, Mystery Island. Plenty of excitement there, all right; Jake Lawson, and how he tried to get the best of the three chums. The terrible storm. The strange man in the long coat. Boy, those were some days on that island! They are detailed in the first book of this series, The Outboard Boys on Mystery Island.
Then the times they had at Shadow Lake. There was a lake for you! "Shadow" was a good name for it.
A weird place, all right. And the monster that lived in the water—they had captured it, but it almost got them first. These adventures are told in the second book, The Outboard Boys at Shadow Lake.
Thinking of these things, Terry found that sleep was further away than ever. How could a fellow sleep while he was remembering all these queer happenings? And when he, Martin, and Warren went to Pirate Beach. That was probably the most mysterious place of all. That was when they got their houseboat, too— the Watermar II. And they were attacked by a gang who were after something that was buried at the beach —at least that's the way it seemed at first. . . .
Good old Watermar II! That story is told in the third volume, The Outboard Boys at Pirate Beach. What lay before them this summer, Terry wondered? Then he turned over on his side and thought:
"By golly, I'll never get to sleep this way! Cut it out, now! Maybe I'd better start counting sheep."
Sheep? Why not cows or horses? Why did people always count sheep? Silly creatures, they were. Horses could jump over fences better than sheep. All right, think of horses going over a fence. One, two, three, four, five—
Then Terry sat up suddenly. A loud moaning sound filled the air. It grew louder. Then it was choked off. Then it came again. Then it gave a few short gasps.
"The fire siren," Terry muttered, after a moment. "That thing could scare a fellow out of a year's growth. Why don't they get a whistle instead of that awful thing?"
He listened. The moaning settled down to a definite monotone. Now he could count the signals. One, two, three. One, two, three, four, five. Thirty-five. Where was that?
"I'll take a look at the card," the youth decided. He kept a fire card in his room, as did many residents of Stirling. In a small lakeside town like Stirling, everyone wanted to know where the fire was.
Terry switched on his light and found the card. He ran down the list. Thirty-five. Here it was.
"By golly!" Terry gasped. "It's Demerest's boat-house!"
Right. That's what it was. "Thirty-five—Demerest's boathouse, Lake Shore!"
"I'd better be sure it was thirty-five," Terry decided. He listened intently. The signal was being repeated. Yes, thirty-five. No doubt of it.
And the Watermar II was stored at Demerest's boathouse!
The realization came to Terry like a glass of cold water thrown in his face. The boathouse was burning. Perhaps there was gasoline there. If the flames caught this—
Good-bye old houseboat!
Terry leaped out of bed and began to pull on his clothes. His mother heard him.
"Terry!" she called. "What's the matter?"
"Fire in Demerest's boathouse, Mom! I gotta go!"
"Fire! What? Did you say fire?" Her voice was panicky.
"Yeah, but not here, Mom—don't get worried! It's away over on the lake—in Demerest's boathouse! Where our boat is! I gotta go!"
Mr. Blondel was aroused now. He came to his son's door, wrapped in his bathrobe.
"What's the trouble, Terry?" he demanded. "That's the fire whistle, isn't it?"
"Yep, it is, Dad," Terry replied, feverishly buttoning his shirt. "In Demerest's boathouse. Thirty-five. I counted."
"Demerest's boathouse! That's where your craft is!"
"I know it! That's why I have to go! Don't worry, now—I'll take care of myself. I won't go in any danger."
"All right, son," said the man heartily. "I know you'll be careful. It would be too bad if the boat burned."
"I'll say it would! Spoil our whole summer, that's what!"
At last he was ready.
"Take your heavy coat, Terry!" his mother called.
"I will! Don't worry! I'll be back soon!" And he clattered down the stairs, grabbed his hat and coat, yanked open the front door, and was gone.
It was quite a distance to the boathouse, but Terry took up a dogtrot, and as he ran he heard the fire siren still sounding the alarm. Evidently it had not been a false one, or the whistle would have ceased by this time.
He tried to discover signs of the fire—a reflection in the sky—but except for the stars the heavens were quite dark. On and on he trotted, panting a bit, but not at all tired, for he was in pretty good athletic condition. Then there were but several hundred more yards to go, and Terry suddenly saw a red glow appear and mushroom upward.
"Sure is burning," he thought miserably. "Guess the houseboat is a goner! Wonder if Martin and Warren—"
His question was answered the next moment. A shout:
"Hey! Hey, Terry!"
It was Warren, or, as he was known to his chums, Wawa—the nickname being a holdover from the small-boy days when he could not pronounce his own name correctly. With him was Martin Hazzard.
The two had come in from a side street, and, like Terry, were running toward the fire.
"Looks like—bad news for us!" Terry panted. "And how!" Martin agreed fervently. "Golly, look at that fire!"
They were now in sight of the boathouse. Flames were bursting through the roof, crackling, roaring. The fire company had already arrived, but it appeared that there was little to be done. The fire had too good a head start. The boathouse seemed doomed.
"Good-night!" Warren gasped, halting. "So long, houseboat!"
A crowd was already beginning to gather. As the three boys approached, at a walk—no use running any farther—they noticed Mr. Demerest and Sylvanus Bogg, a young fellow who helped him around the boats and dock.
"Syl! Hey, Silly!" Warren cried. "What's happening here?"
"Looks kind of like a fire," Syl replied grimly. "Mr. Demerest thinks it may have started from an electric-light wire."
"We don't care what started it—are they going to stop it?" Terry demanded. "We've got a boat in there!"
"So have other people," Mr. Demerest sighed. "It's too bad, boys—it's too bad!"
"Can't anything be done?" Martin asked anxiously.
"Doing all they can," Mr. Demerest responded, gesturing toward the fire company. "But it looks hopeless. It's too bad."
"Well . . ." Terry threw up his hands in dismay. "I guess that settles it. No more houseboat. What'll we do this summer?"
It was quite natural that Terry should think of this, for the boat meant much to them. The boys had had many enjoyable—and exciting—times in it. Now, if it were lost to them—
There appeared to be no "if" about it. The flames were mounting. The firemen were being driven back by the heat, and the streams of water they directed upon the building were ineffective.
"Got any gasoline in there?" Martin asked Mr. Demerest.
"No—that's one good thing. I didn't get my supply in yet. Otherwise we might have an explosion."
Just then one of the firemen, with the same thought in mind that Martin had expressed, ran to the boat-house owner.
"Hey!" he cried. "Got anything inflammable in there?"
"Inflammable?" repeated Mr. Demerest. "My goodness, doesn't it look as though the whole thing was inflammable? Oh—you mean gasoline. No, none in there. You don't need to be afraid of that. Can you get any of the boats out?"
"How?" asked the fireman sarcastically. "With a sky hook? Mister, you couldn't get in that boathouse with a suit of armor. It'd melt right on you!"
"That finishes it," Warren groaned. "We might as well go home."
"Let's stay until we see what happens," Terry suggested. "Maybe the flames will die down."
"Yeah—next week sometime," the fireman grunted and went back to his work.
The three friends watched the fire grow more intense, and then the entire roof fell in. The sparks flew high, the wind, fortunately, sweeping them out into the lake, and not landward.
"And thus perished the Watermar II," said Terry bitterly. "She was a good boat. We'll probably never get another."
"No?" asked Martin quietly.
They turned toward him, in surprise. They saw by the light of the fire that his face was quite calm. He did not look like a youth who has just seen his property go up in flames.
"What do you mean?" Terry demanded. "That we can save up and buy another boat?"
"No, I don't exactly mean that," said Martin slowly. "But we can get another, if we want to."
"How, for Pete's sake?" Warren gasped.
"Well, fellows,"—Martin smiled—"you see, when we stored the boat last fall, I took out fire insurance on her. Got almost as much insurance as we paid for her. So, if we want to get another, we can—and I've got an idea as to what sort of boat to get, too!"
CHAPTER II Hot Chocolate
TERRY and Warren paused as they were walking away from the still raging fire and looked at Martin, who regarded them calmly—even with a superior smile.
"Martin," asked Terry, "you wouldn't fool your old pals, would you?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean you're not just trying to make us feel good?"
"If the heat has gone to his head," suggested Warren, "it wouldn't be much trouble to dip him in the lake. And it's cool enough—"
"Don't try anything like that, Wawa," warned Martin.
"We'll try it and finish it, too," declared Terry, "if you are bluffing us."
"That insurance business."
"Oh, that's no bluff!” Martin assured his chums. "I tell you I really have a policy on our houseboat, and it's in a good company. The same one that handles Dad's matters. We can collect all right."
"But we can't buy another houseboat, as good as the one that just burned, at anything like the bargain price we got her at," objected Warren. "We had good luck there, and it isn't likely to strike twice in the same place."
"He's right," agreed Terry. "You did a good stroke when you got this insurance, Mart, but even if they pay in full, I mean pay all the boat cost us, we'd still be on the wrong side."
"How?" asked Martin as they turned to see the firemen at last get the better of the stubborn blaze. "What do you mean?"
"It's just as Wawa says. We'll have to put up a lot of money, with what insurance we can collect, to buy another boat. And I don't believe you'll get full insurance."
"The motor was out of the boat, wasn't it?"
"Sure. You don't leave a removable outboard motor on a boat when you haul her out for the winter, not if you know your onions."
"Well, we knew our onions and we took the motor off, didn't we, Wawa?" asked Terry.
"And when you took out the insurance, Martin, which I give you credit for, you probably got a policy insuring the boat and motor, didn't you?"
"I suppose so."
"Well, then," went on the tall, blond lad as he took off his hat to ruffle his hair, "when the insurance company finds out the motor is safe they'll only give us a comparatively small sum for a second-hand houseboat."
"I didn't think of that," admitted Martin, some of the cocksureness oozing out of him. "But we'll get some money, and with what we have we can get another boat and perhaps use this same motor on her. The kind of boat I'm thinking of isn't going to cost such an awful lot, though they're specially built."
"Say, will you please explain?" begged Terry. "First you give us a shock by telling us about unsuspected insurance, and then you say you have a new idea, and then you speak of a specially built boat for our saved outboard motor—do something about it, will you?"
"Let us in on it," begged Warren.
"I didn't really mean to keep that insurance business from you," stated Martin, as they walked up from the lake shore toward the main part of the town, which was beginning to show signs of life. The fire alarm had awakened many who came out to see what it was all about. "It just slipped my mind."
"Well, slip us the rest of the story and we'll forgive you," offered Terry.
"Sure," chimed in Warren. "When I realized that our boat was gone, I began to think of going into the snake business on a large scale, so—"
"Not bad," chuckled Martin.
"What isn't bad ?" asked Warren.
"That joke—about going into the snake business on a large scale! Ha-ha! It would also apply to fish."
"I don't consider fish pets," said Warren, with somewhat of an austere air. He really had a hobby for odd pets, especially snakes. "Anyhow," he resumed, "when I realized our boat was gone I knew I'd have to do something to keep busy this summer, so I was planning on collecting more snakes."
"And now?" asked Martin, as his chum paused to look back at the lessening red glow in the sky.
"Well, if you say you have something to lift us up out of the dumps, Martin, I'll reconsider my snake decision."
"I have, but this is no place to talk about it. Let's go over there and get some hot chocolate." He indicated an all-night drugstore, the lights of which made a cheerful contrast to the dark streets of Stirling.
"Hot chocolate will hit me just about right," said Terry.
"I second the motion," came from Warren.
They found a table near the rear of the store, gave their orders, and were finally served, for many other customers, out to see the fire, had dropped in for refreshment, and the proprietor had summoned his son, from the living quarters above, to help him.
"Now here's my plan," said Martin when they had all taken a few sips of the foaming brown beverage. "We each have a little money. And we'll get more from the insurance. Not enough to replace the houseboat, perhaps, though we might have the luck to pick up another bargain like her. But enough to buy the kind of a boat I have in mind. And if that's successful, we'll have more money or another big boat."
"He talks in riddles," commented Warren.
"Still suffering from the heat, I'm afraid," murmured Terry.
"Listen, you fellows!" demanded Martin in a new tone. "You know about Shark River, don't you?"
"You mean that stream, about two hundred miles from here, that broadens out into a bay at a place called Salina?" asked Terry.
"That's the place. You fellows ever hear anything about it?"
"It's water that is unusually salty," said Warren after a moment or two of thought. "A lot of salt mines out that way, I've heard, and underground water, dissolving the rock salt, seeps into Shark River and Salina Bay and makes it saltier than the ocean, though it's really inland water."
"Good boy! Go up head!" complimented Martin. "But did you ever hear anything else about Salina Bay? It's your turn, Terry."
"Now that you speak of it, my good sire," said Terry, rather banteringly as he sipped his chocolate, "I think I've heard of outboard motorboat racing there, but if you think—"
He stopped suddenly, for Martin had kicked his chum's foot under the table at which they were sitting.
"What's the—" began Terry indignantly.
"Here comes Jake Lawson!" warned Martin in a whisper out of the side of his mouth. "We don't want to talk about this with him in the same room. Finish your drinks and come on out."
CHAPTER III Suspicious Listeners
TERRY and Warren needed no urging to remove themselves from the presence of the notorious Jake Lawson, with whom, and his crony, Al Barton, the three chums had had more than one conflict.
Barton had entered the drugstore with Lawson, and the two looked leeringly and curiously at Martin, who headed the small withdrawing delegation.
"What's the matter, Wawa?" asked Martin as he caught a sort of protesting groan from the stout lad. Are you sorry to leave?"
"No, but I swallowed the last of my chocolate in a hurry, and it was hotter than I thought."
"Never mind," consoled Terry. "We'll soon be out in the cool night air and you can swallow deep breaths and ease your tongue!"
"Um," mumbled Warren.
As the three chums passed Jake and Al, the latter looked at them and, in what perhaps was meant for a friendly spirit, remarked:
"Quite a fire."
"Yes," said Martin, shortly.
"Heard you fellows lost a boat in it," said Jake.
"Oh, no," said Terry, and his friends wondered what he meant. "We were going to burn up our old tub, anyhow, to salvage the metal in her," went on Terry, with biting sarcasm, "and this fire saved us the trouble."
"Oh, is that so?" asked Jake. It is doubtful whether Terry's remark penetrated. "Too bad! Yes, it was quite a fire all right." He was supplementing his crony's attempt at making advances—just why, neither Martin nor his chums could guess.
"Yes, it drove out a lot of—bugs!" snapped Martin.
"Bugs?" questioned Jake, thick again.
"Yes," said Martin, and he let it go at that.
"Ha-ha! I guess he means bedbugs!” chuckled Al. "Yes, it did get a lot of folks up out of bed—that alarm. It got me and Jake up."
"That's what I meant—bugs," said Martin frostily as he hurried on, the others following. Jake and Al stared after the trio, and Jake, walking toward a table where he and Al intended to sit while ordering their drinks, remarked as he scratched his head:
"Bugs, eh? If I thought he was calling us names—"
"Naw, he didn't mean anything—just bedbugs," said Al. "Got folks up out of bed, you know."
"Was that it?"
"Oh, all right."
Outside, Martin, Warren, and Terry paused, undecided what to do next. They didn't at all like having to leave the warm store so suddenly.
"But I can say what I started to say out here," said Martin, as they walked along toward their homes, which were not far apart. "My idea is for us to buy a racing boat and put our outboard motor on it. Then we can compete in the Salina regatta that will be held this summer, and if we win a prize we can buy even a better boat than the Watermar III"
"Oh, so we're going in for outboard-motor racing, are we?" asked Terry.
"That's the popular sport out at Salina Bay and Shark River," said Martin. "Well, what do you fellows think of it?" he asked as the others remained silent.
"I'm for it!" suddenly announced Terry.
"So am I," echoed Warren. "It'll be a swell way to spend our summer vacation, if we can manage about the boat, since we have the motor."
"I think, with what insurance money we'll get, and what we already have, we can buy a racing boat," said Martin. "They're not big—look like bugs, and most of 'em only hold one man, and he sort of slops over the side. But we can get one that will seat two—they have double races—skipper and mechanic, you know."
"It sounds good," murmured Terry. "There's only one thing, though."
"What?" asked Martin.
"Will it be enough fun for a whole summer just to go out to Shark River and Salina Bay and take part in a race? I mean will there be enough to hold us?"
"I think so," Martin said as they walked along. "I've been reading up about these races. There's plenty doing even if a fellow doesn't take part in 'em. Exciting as all get-out to watch. And then we'll have the fun of traveling out there with our boat, getting her ready for racing, seeing the others, and so on."
"Yes, I think it'll do," decided Terry.
"You don't seem very enthusiastic!" said Martin.
"I was only contrasting this new plan and our other vacations and the adventures we had on them.” went on Terry. "There was Mystery Island, Shadow Lake, and Pirate Beach. Just going out to a salt-water bay to race doesn't seem to promise anything in the way of a mystery.
"Wait until we get out there," suggested Warren, coming to Martin's aid. "We might run into something."
"I hope it isn't a piece of driftwood when we're scooting along in our racing boat," chuckled Terry.
"You're right there," assented Martin. "Well, let's think this over. If you fellows don't want to go in for it, you can plan something else."
"Oh, I'm not objecting," said Terry quickly. "It's all so sudden."
"Like Demerest's fire," added Warren. "But we'll not desert you, Martin. All for one and one for all."
"Right, my Gascon!" chuckled Martin. "And now let's imitate Mr. Pepys—and so to bed/"
"Yes; not a bad idea," remarked Terry. "So you didn't want Jake and Al to know that we may go in for outboard racing?" he asked just before the three separated.
“No. They know too much about us already.” Said Martin.
"I'd hate to have Al and Jake in the same race with us," murmured Warren.
A survey of the burned boathouse in the morning revealed the fact that the night's surmise as to the extent of the damage was not exaggerated. There was nothing left of the place save some charred timbers, and in the ruins were the remains of many fine boats, including the Watermar II.
"But your motor's all right, boys," said Mr. Demerest as he mournfully surveyed the wreck of his place. "That, with a lot of other outboards, was in a separate shed, luckily. Oh, but this is a mess!"
"What you fellows going to do with the motor?" asked Sylvanus Bogg as he hurried to and fro with a smudgy face and hands.
"Put it in an airplane, Syl," answered Martin, winking at his chums.
"No kidding! Say, that's a great idea! You fellows sure know how to do things!"
"We'll take you up with us when we get the airship," said Terry, as gravely as Martin had spoken.
"Oh, no, I don't think I'd like that," said Syl seriously. "I promised my folks I'd never ride in a plane. But thanks just the same."
The three examined the motor before going on to school. Terry and Warren agreed with Martin that the motor could easily be used on a racing craft if they could get one.
"Though I'm a bit hazy on just what sort of boat we can buy," said Warren.
"Do you remember that one we saw Harry Stevens in when he was so nearly killed?" asked Martin.
"Oh, yes," agreed Warren. "It was hardly bigger than a June bug."
"And if you want to see more of this game," went on Martin, "I'll take you fellows to the movies tonight."
"What's that got to do with outboard racing?" Terry wanted to know.
"There's going to be a film shown of a meet out at this very Salina Bay I was thinking of," Martin answered. "It's worth seeing."
"We'll come!" decided his two chums. On the way to school, Martin stopped in at the office of the insurance agent and started the preliminaries toward making a claim under the policy he had so luckily taken out. There was nothing more to be done until a settlement was made.
"And I'll hurry it along all I can," promised Mr. Taylor, the agent.
It may seriously be doubted that much attention was paid to lessons by Martin and his chums that day. They were thinking too much about the prospect before them. And such home study as was imposed on them was rather skimped that night as they left early to attend the movie.
"We'll stay and see the outboard film twice," Martin proposed as the reason for an early start.
The film was all the boys had hoped it would be. It was not the main picture, and they waited impatiently for that to be run off so they could see the speedy little craft fairly flying over the water of Salina Bay. Then they sat through some news reels and part of the main feature again so the outboard regatta film could be viewed once more.
The reason why Salina Bay was so popular a place with outboard racers was that the water, being so salty, was much "thicker" than ordinary water, and hence buoyed the boats up better. The hulls did not sink so deeply, and the boats actually "planed" over the surface. Records were set at Salina Bay which could not possibly be duplicated except upon water of like consistency. The boats really shot over the top of the water, the motor alone being submerged.
"Well?" asked Martin of his two chums as they finally leaned back in their seats when the main race was finally over in a cloud of spray. "What about it?"
"We'll go in for it!" decided Terry.
"Me for Shark River and Salina Bay!" declared Warren.
Then, as the three got up, they saw Jake Lawson and Al Barton. The two cronies had been sitting in the row directly behind the three chums and must have heard what they had said about Shark River.
"Of all the luck!" muttered Martin as he followed his friends out. "Now I suppose they'll try some more of their funny work!"
CHAPTER IV Will She Run?
OUTSIDE the moving-picture theater, Martin and his two friends stalked moodily along for a few moments. Martin's remark about the bad luck, in the fact that Jake Lawson had evidently overheard their plans, found an echo in the hearts of Terry and Warren. But, suddenly, as they walked along, unconsciously heading for a place where they could refresh themselves with sodas or hot chocolates, the funny side of it struck Terry, and he began to laugh.
"What's the idea?" asked Warren.
"What chumps we are," explained Terry, "to let that bunch of old prunes worry us."
"You mean Jake ?" asked Martin.
"Sure I mean Jake! Why, what if he did hear us say we were going to get a racing boat and take part in the Salina regatta? What of it?"
"That's so," agreed Warren, falling into Terry's mood. "We've made Jake take a licking more than once."
"Yes, we have," assented Martin, "and we probably can again. But that isn't the point."
"What is, then?" Terry wanted to know. "Come on in," he invited as they paused in front of a soda shop. "I'll buy."
"Let's wait and see if those prunes come in," suggested Warren. "No use having to swallow your soda in a hurry as we did the hot chocolate."
"Jake and Al won't be along here," said Terry.
"How do you know?" challenged Martin.
"I saw them come out of the theater right after us, and they went down the Boulevard way. They won't bother us tonight. So come on in," Terry urged his chums again, "and Martin can explain what the point is."
"The point is," Martin began when they were seated at a table in the rear of the place where they could have a view of the front door—"the point is, if we go in for this racing stunt, I don't want Jake and his gang always hanging around and bothering us, to say the least, as they've done before."
"I guess none of us wants that," conceded Terry. "But do you think Jake would follow us out to Salina?"
"Sure he would!" declared Martin. "He'd ask nothing better than to imitate us. He and Al are probably arranging now to get a racing boat just because they know we're going to. Monkey business!"
"Well, let 'em!" suggested Warren. "As a matter of fact, we could hardly hope to keep our plans secret very long, in the first place we've got to buy a racing boat. As soon as we get her and try her out on Lake Otter, Jake, and everybody else in and around Stirling, will hear about it. And if we enter our boat in the Salina races, that fact is sure to come out. They publish the names of the entrants, don't they?"
"I suppose they do," Martin had to admit, a little less gloomy now as the inevitableness of it was borne upon him. "I didn't think of that. No, I guess we can't keep Jake from knowing our plans. But it makes me mad to see him always sneaking around where we are and trying to hear what we say."
"Jake's mean and so is his gang," declared Warren. "I guess he'll never be anything else even though he is on probation and has to report to the police here at regular intervals on account of the Stevens kidnaping business, and pay a fine every week."
"Say, that's something!" cried Martin, excitement showing in his deep-set eyes.
"Of course it's something!" laughed Terry. "It's something Jake Lawson would like to get rid of."
"No, what I mean is this," went on Martin. "Jake is on probation and has to report to the police, as Terry says. But don't you fellows see? He can't leave here to go out to Salina and enter the race and, maybe, queer our game by fouling us and then claiming it was an accident. He can't do it! Hurray! We're all set!"
"Just a moment! Just a moment!" drawled Warren. "Calm down, old man. I believe Jake could arrange to postpone his police-reporting sentence for a long enough time so he could go out to Salina and come back here. Mean as he is—and the judge told him so, I believe—the same judge would suspend the reporting long enough for Jake to take part in the race. The judge might argue that it was a sign Jake wanted to live a better life."
"Well, I don't believe in his signs," said Martin, "but there's something in what you say, Wawa. I guess we can't shake Jake off."
"So we might as well admit that and make the best of it," argued Terry. "Cheer up, Martin."
"All right. I guess I can stand Jake if you fellows can."
"It may not be a question of standing him," went on Terry. "He may have no notion of imitating us and going to Salina Bay to race. In the first place he hasn't a racing boat."
"Neither have we," said Warren. "But we hope to get one."
"And Jake Lawson can do the same," said Martin. "But let's try to forget it. Can you fellows go another?" he asked, for their sodas were finished.
"Atta baby!" chanted Terry. "Good boy! Make mine pineapple this time," he told the girl who came to the table, smiling, to take the order.
"Say, those were some races," remarked Warren as they began on the second round. "I never saw a more exciting film!"
"It was good. I thought you fellows would like it," remarked Martin.
"I nearly slid off my seat when that one driver fell out of his boat and she went swirling around in a circle so fast you could hardly tell what she was. The rudder must have jammed," said Warren.
"And did you see the whirlpool the boat made in the water?" asked Terry.
"Sure! It nearly sucked the driver down into it, like that story of Poe's," said Warren.
The boys were in better mood now and grew quite cheerful over the prospects for the summer vacation which, now, did not seem to be approaching rapidly enough, since they had a definite object ahead of them. For a time, at least, Jake Lawson was forgotten.
"I only wish, though," remarked Warren a trifle wistfully as they were about to separate, "that we could get a line on some mystery to take a crack at out near Salina Bay/'
"Cheer up, Old Sleuth!" chuckled Martin. "We may find a mystery yet, in addition to winning an outboard-motor race prize."
And therein Martin spoke more truly than he realized.
"What about our insurance money and getting a line on what kind of boat we can buy?" asked Terry, about to turn down his street.
"I'll see Mr. Taylor in the morning," Martin promised.
The insurance agent told his client that the matter was coming along as well as could be expected.
"I've put your claim in," he said to Martin. "It isn’t disputed. It only remains for the adjusters to appraise the value of your boat that was burned, and then you'll get a check."
"It can't come any too soon," Martin said.
"I'll hurry it all I can," the agent answered.
Martin reported this to his chums, and they began to plan ways and means not only of buying a racing boat but getting out to Salina Bay, a distance of two hundred miles from Stirling.
"How can we ship a boat out there?" asked Terry at one stage of the talk.
"Most of the racers take their craft out on autos," Martin said. "The boats are so small and light—just shells to hold an engine—that you can put one on top of a car easily. You saw that in the film the other night."
"That's right," Terry admitted.
"But we've got to learn something about this outboard racing game. There's more to it than just sitting in a boat, starting your motor, and steering around the course," Martin said.
"You're right there is!" said Warren. "Did you see how some of the racers in the film picture bounced up and down after they started?"
"That was to get the boat on what they call the water step," said Martin.
"How'd you find that out?" Terry wanted to know. "He's been holding out on us, Wawa."
"Oh, I've been collecting some information," Martin admitted. "I sent for copies of the racing rules, and I've got a circular on how a regatta is run. I'll show 'em to you fellows the next time you're up to the house. But you're right. We've got to learn how to handle our racer after we get her, and we must begin to make some plans now."
"There ought to be somebody around Lake Otter who could give us some points on this racing game," suggested Terry.
"Probably there is," admitted Martin. "We'll scout around."
"It's too bad we can't go out on the lake for a ride," lamented Warren. "What did that fire have to happen for, just when the outdoor season is beginning? If it hadn't been for that we could be out cruising now. The weather's getting fine!"
“And all we have is an outboard motor," sighed Terry.
"Well, there's no reason why we can't use it before we get our racer," said Martin.
"How?" asked his chums in a duet.
"Why, Demerest has a few old tubs that escaped the fire. We could borrow or rent one of those, attach our motor to it, and ride around afternoons and evenings. I think we ought to, for we want to see what shape our motor is in after the winter. It may need overhauling."
"I shouldn't wonder but that it did," admitted Warren. "We'll do that little thing, Martin."
"The sooner the quicker," agreed Terry.
It was two days later, owing to a severe rainstorm, before the three could carry out their plan of using their outboard motor, at least temporarily, on a big rowboat Mr. Demerest let them take.
The motor that had given them such good service on the houseboat was taken out of the rack and the canvas cover removed. A partial cleaning was given it, and it was oiled and gas put into the tank.
It did not take long to clamp it to the stern of the rowboat. Then the boys were ready for a trial run.
"Better take oars along," suggested the grinning Sylvanus Bogg as he stood at the partly rebuilt dock that had been burned with the boathouse.
"Why, Syl?" asked Warren.
"Why, 'cause your motor might stall on you, not havin' been run all winter, an' you can't always get a tow back."
"Oh, I thought you were going to follow us around in a canoe," teased Terry, "and be ready to tow us back if we had trouble."
"Well, if you want me to," began the simple chap, 'why, of course I might get Mr. Demerest to let me off."
"Never mind, Syl," said Martin. "I don't believe we'll need you. But thanks just the same."
"And we are going to take oars," added Terry.
"I thought you'd better," said Sylvanus, obviously pleased at his own smartness.
The motor was tightened on the stern board, Martin looked over the various parts and connections, took hold of the starting rope and, looking back at his chums in the bow, asked:
"Will she run?"
CHAPTER V The Flying Streak
THERE was a portentous pause as Martin stood there, the starting rope in his hand. There always is this sort of pause where any motor that has not been operating for a long time is concerned.
"To run or not to run, that is the question," murmured Terry.
"Cut it out! Don't talk! This motor always was a bit temperamental," warned Warren.
"Well, here goes!" Martin said with a long breath.
He pulled smartly on the rope, which resembled a window-sash cord. The flywheel, thus spun, turned around smartly, and the rope slipped off the knob, as it was designed to do.
But there was no answering explosion in the cylinders. Not a cough, a splutter, not a snap. "Not even a sigh," remarked Warren. "Keep still!" ordered Martin. "I didn't expect it to fire at the first pull."
“Martin always was optimistic," taunted Terry.
Martin quickly attached the rope and pulled it again with the same result, or, rather, lack of result. The motor didn't catch, and there was no welcome chug-chug of explosions.
"Keep on, boy! You're doing good work!" complimented Warren.
"You're getting her warmed up," commented Terry. "First thing you know she'll get mad at you and spit."
"Say, if you fellows think this is any fun, take a turn yourselves at it," suggested Martin after several more futile attempts.
"Oh, you're doing all right," said Terry.
"Don't give up the ship," quoted Warren.
By this time the boat, having been cast off from the dock, had drifted out a considerable distance into the lake. Then came a hail:
"Want I should come out and git you?"
Syl was standing on the stringpiece regarding the drifting boys.
"Sure! Come on! Swim out!" invited Warren.
"Oh, it's too cold for that. I never take a bath before Decoration Day, and sometimes not then," Mr. Demerest's helper said.
"Oh, you dirty Syl!" chanted the three in chorus.
"I mean I never go in swimming before Decoration Day," Sylvanus was quick to say. "Of course I take a bath in a tub every Saturday night, and sometimes on Wednesdays."
"Atta baby!" chuckled Warren.
"But if you want me to come out in a boat—"
"No, don't bother—for a while yet," Martin interrupted. "I'm going to let these fellows see what they can do."
"Let me have the rope," demanded Terry, getting up from his comfortable position in the bow. "I'll start the blooming jigger!"
"With the best wishes in the world," Martin said, relinquishing his task.
Terry looked the motor over carefully. Then he caught the loop of the starting rope over the knob, wrapped it around the grooved flywheel, and paused.
"Well, go on," suggested Martin, a trifle impatiently.
"In starting an outboard motor," began Terry, in a lecture tone of voice, "one of the first requisites is to see that the wire from the high-tension magneto is securely attached to the spark-plug connections. After this is done, a smart pull on the rope will start the motor."
As he spoke he adjusted a loose wire, pulled the cord, and the motor went off like a shot.
"Well, I'll be jiggered!" gasped Warren as Terry sat down and took hold of the steering handle. "He did it!"
"So could Martin if he'd attached the ignition wire," said Terry calmly. "Any time you fellows want to know something about outboard motors, ask me."
"Do you mean to say that ignition wire was loose?" demanded Martin.
"It certainly was, my good man."
"I'm positive it was attached when I started to spin the flywheel; positive!" asserted Martin. "It must have come loose after I made so many attempts."
"Yes. Kidding you no longer, I believe that's what happened," Terry admitted. "You're a good egg, Martin. You got her loosened up for me, for she must have been stiff after her winter storage. Anyhow she's running nicely now."
Indeed the motor was. It seemed glad to be in action again.
"But I'll bet she misses the old Watermar II," observed Martin.
"Don't speak of her!" begged Warren, pretending to weep.
"She's running sweet," commented Terry as he made sure the now swiftly whirling motor was getting sufficient lubrication. "Never better!"
He steered the boat out into the lake. "Go around the point," suggested Martin, "and head out for Rattlesnake Island. A run there and back will give us a little fresh air."
"Right’o, my hearty," assented Terry.
"Not many boats out yet," remarked Warren as they approached a long narrow point of wooded land jutting out into the lake between Stirling and the neighboring town of Wiltshire.
"No, it's early," agreed Martin. "Say, we're scooting right along," he added as he noted the speed they were making. "Of course this old tub is nothing as heavy as the houseboat was, but the motor is sure pushing her."
"Think it'll do for a racing boat?" asked Warren.
"Well," Martin remarked, judicially, "from what I've found out, this motor is a little heavier, being two cylinders, than what they use in the small racing boats. You know they class the boats by the size of the motor —cylinder capacity or something like that. We may have to enter in one of the larger-size boat classes. But that's all right, for I think we'll have more fun racing with two of us in a boat than with just one, though the one-driver boats may go faster—probably do."
"Can't we arrange so all three of us could be in the racing boat?" asked Warren.
"It seems a pity that only two of us can compete," added Terry.
"Oh, we can all three compete," Martin made haste to say. "You see, these races are sometimes run in two or more heats. So we can change about."
"Oh, then it's all right," said Warren. "We'll each get a shot at it."
"Sure," said Martin.
They were running along nicely now, and the motor was working smoothly. They were almost at Rattlesnake Island, one of many small islands in Lake Otter, when Warren called:
"Look at that!"
"What?" asked Martin, who, with Terry, was critically observing their motor.
"That flying streak," went on Warren. "Boy, there's a racer for you!"
He pointed to, and the others saw, a small boat with an outboard motor fairly flying over the water between them and the island they were approaching. The craft was rushing along with almost her whole length out of the lake, her bow pointed into the air. Seated amidships was a man, attired in what seemed to be a flying suit. He wore big goggles.
"A racer, all right! First one I've seen on this lake!" exclaimed Warren. "A flying streak!"
"Flying streak is right," agreed Martin. "He sure is scudding along. We've got to find out who he is, and maybe he can give us some points on racing and tell us the best place to buy a boat when we get our money together."
"I wonder who he is," said Terry.
"Maybe you can find out sooner than you expect," went on Warren, who, being in the bow, while Terry and Martin were both now in the stern, had the better view.
"What do you mean?" asked Terry.
"Why, he seems to be running into trouble," was the answer. "We may have to help him. Look!"
As he spoke, it was evident to his chums that something had gone wrong. The bow of the racing boat, which had been high out of the water, suddenly dropped, and the "step wave" under the bottom, amidships, subsided. At the same time the smother of spray and foam at the stern lessened considerably.
"He's lost his propeller!" cried Martin. "Looks so," agreed Warren.
A moment later the man in the flying streak waved his hands to the boys and called: "Will you please give me a tow?"
CHAPTER VI To the Rescue
TALK about luck!" cried Terry as he swung the tiller over and headed the clumsy rowboat toward the still dancing but now disabled racing craft.
"Whose luck?" asked Warren. "If you mean his, he's out of it with a lost propeller."
"I mean ours," Terry said. "We've got a good chance to make this man's acquaintance now, and we can ask him about getting a racing boat. He must be a racer himself."
"I guess he was trying to be," Martin said as they watched the man reach carefully back to shut off his motor, which, now that it had no propeller as a drag, was dangerously speeding. The boat was so small and with such a narrow beam that, now it was no longer moving along with speed to balance it, it could easily be capsized, the boys assumed.
The racer was now serenely bobbing about on the lake, and the skipper was calmly awaiting the arrival of the rescue party.
Terry, still captain, engineer, and part of the crew, cut down the speed of his motor and carefully approached the disabled craft.
"I hope you chaps have a tow rope aboard," was the first remark of the man, who took off his goggles and looked in friendly fashion at the three boys. "If you haven't, I'm in for my second bad break today. Though I'd be glad to pay anybody for towing me back, if you wouldn't mind passing the word along."
"We'll tow you wherever you want to go!" said Terry, with his usual impetuosity.
"That might be a big order," said the man with a smile, "for Lake Otter isn't exactly a mill pond. But, as it happens, 1 have a shack on the other side of Rattlesnake Island. So you won't have far to haul me if you have a rope."
"We have a rope," Warren said.
"Then that's luck," said the skipper of the flying streak, with a smile.
“Syl must have put it in before we started, thinking, maybe, we might want to go fishing," said Martin with a laugh.
"Syl is the jolly dumb-helper over at Demerest's boathouse," said Terry as the man looked at the boys inquiringly.
"Oh, Demerest's boathouse—where they had the fire the other night."
"Fire is right!" commented Terry. "It burned our houseboat, and that's why we're out in this tub."
"But I'm very glad to see this same tub, boys," said the man, who appeared to be about thirty years of age. "It's too bad about your boat, but I see you saved the motor."
"Yes, that was stored in another place," Warren said. "And we're hoping to get a racing boat, something like yours," he went on, "and enter in the Salina Bay regatta."
"Oh, are you?" said the man, showing more interest. "Then I may see you out there. I'm going to enter my Butterfly in her class, after I get a new propeller for her," and he patted the little forward deck of his craft.
"So you lost your propeller?" asked Martin, though it was a question to which he was sure he knew the answer.
"Yes. It must have struck a bit of driftwood. Luckily it was fastened to the shaft with a soft brass pin which sheered off. As a matter of fact, the propeller is supposed to stay on when it hits an obstruction. The soft pin sheered off, but there must have been more damage than that, for I could tell, by the way the engine raced, that the propeller is at the bottom of the lake now. Otherwise I'm not much out of luck. I can easily attach a new propeller if you'll be good enough to tow me to the island."
"Glad to," said Terry.
He still remained at the motor. The forward controls and steering gear which had been installed on the Watermar II could not be used on the rowboat without considerable work, and the boys were just operating their motor in its simplest way.
Martin and Warren got out the rope which was, fortunately, in a little space under the bow seat. It was attached to the racing boat Butterfly at the bow and to the stern of the more clumsy craft, in such a manner that it would not interfere with the motor.
"All ready?" asked Terry, who had shut down his engine.
“All ready," answered the other skipper.
The little machine, containing so much power in a small space, leaped into life as Terry pulled the rope. They started off, Terry using caution as to speed, for he knew the frail character of those outboard racing boats. In a short time, during which the three boys were wondering as to the identity of the man they were helping, they rounded Rattlesnake Island and saw a number of cottages and camps, few of which were open so early in the year.
"That blue boathouse is mine," said the man, pointing to one that loomed into sight as the boys rounded the western end of Rattlesnake Island. He had only to raise his voice slightly to be heard above the noise of the outboard motor, as it had a very efficient underwater exhaust and was exceptionally silent.
"We'll deliver you there right side up and with care," called back Terry.
"Thanks a lot. And if you don't mind coming inside—though my shack is all upset, for I'm up here all alone—I can make you some coffee or chocolate. It’s still a bit chilly."
"Yes," agreed Martin. "Too cool for bathing."
"And I thought," the man said, laughing, as Terry slowed up to approach the dock of the blue boathouse, "that I might have to swim home. There aren't many craft out yet. I was glad to see yours."
It did not take long to make the Butterfly with the broken wing, or, more properly, the lost propeller, fast, and then, as the boys moored their own craft a safe distance away from the frail racer, the man asked: "May I know to whom I am indebted for this service?"
The boys, walking with him from his dock toward a large cottage up in the woods, gave their names.
"I am Jeremiah Tenchard," the man introduced himself. "Though most of my friends, among whom I hope to number you, call me Jerry."
"Not Jerry Tenchard the racer?" cried Martin.
"Yes, I have raced outboard craft—once or twice," said Mr. Tenchard modestly.
"Didn't you," pursued Martin, "win the last Albany—New York race on the Hudson?"
"Well, they gave me credit for it, at any rate," said Mr. Tenchard. "So I suppose you can say 1 won."
"By golly!" cried Martin, all excited. "A hundred and thirty-two miles in three hours and fifteen minutes —over forty miles an hour! And you did it."
"Well," began Mr. Tenchard, still modestly, "they tell me—"
He was interrupted by a crash down at the dock. A crash and a cry of fear or alarm.
Startled, the boys and Mr. Tenchard turned to see what had happened.
CHAPTER VII A Suggestion of Mystery
ANOTHER boat, operated by an outboard motor, had bumped into the stern of the craft in which Martin and his chums had come to Rattlesnake Island. It needed but a glance to disclose who were the occupants of the colliding boat.
"Jake Lawson!" exclaimed Terry.
"And Al Barton," added Warren.
"Are they friends of yours?" asked Mr. Tenchard, who had shown signs of alarm on hearing the crash. But he was relieved when he saw that his trim little racer had not been touched. She was tied to the dock farther inshore. It was the borrowed rowboat that had been hit. "If you want to ask your friends up for some chocolate," went on the race driver, "it will be—"
"They're no friends of ours," said Martin.
"Just the opposite," stated Terry.
"Might know Jake would do something like this," muttered Martin, as he started on the run toward the end of the dock. "If he's punched a hole in our boat he'll have to pay for it!"
Mr. Tenchard turned to go down to the end of the dock and see what damage had been done, and Warren and Terry followed. By this time Martin had reached the scene of the accident.
"What's the big idea, Jake," he snapped, "deliberately bumping into our boat?"
"It was an accident," Jake retorted, mildly enough for him. "I was letting Al steer, and he took too sudden a turn. You're not damaged any—it was just a hard bump."
"Not your fault if there's no damage," retorted Martin, as, by a quick inspection, he ascertained the truth of what Jake had said. Aside from a little paint rubbed off the side of the rowboat, no damage had been done. The outboard motor had not been touched.
"What are you doing here, anyhow?" demanded Terry.
"I might ask you the same question," sneered Jake. "Since when has Rattlesnake Island been so private that nobody could motor past it?"
"Well, that's what you'd better do," suggested Warren. "Motor past it and keep right on motoring."
"Oh, is that so?" mocked Al.
"Don't mix it up with him," suggested Martin, in a low voice to his chums. "Let it drop."
Jake and Al, having seen that their own craft was no more damaged than was the rowboat, were now in a whispering huddle. They seemed to pay no attention to the three boys, but directed their glances toward Mr. Tenchard, who stood a little distance away from Martin and his chums.
"I guess they recognize you," suggested Terry.
"I don't know those boys," the racer said, "but they may have seen my picture in the paper. I've only been here a few weeks this season, but I suppose that fact is known to quite a number of lake residents. Well, as long as these aren't friends of yours, and as no great damage has been done, suppose we carry out our original idea and adjourn to my house for some chocolate or coffee or, I may go so far as to say, tea?"
"I'd like tea," said Terry quickly.
"It's his one weakness," laughed Warren. "Otherwise he's normal."
"Oh, cut it!" Terry advised.
"You shall have the best cup of tea I can brew!" promised Mr. Tenchard.
As he and the three chums once more turned to go up the little slope from the dock to the cottage, Jake and Al, having started their outboard motor, swept out into the lake.
"They seem like fresh young chaps," commented Mr. Tenchard.
"They're worse than fresh!" declared Warren. "Always trying some mean trick against us! I believe they followed us here," he added.
"They may have," Martin admitted. "I didn't notice their boat around when we went to your rescue," he said to the racer, "but they might have been in some cove and have seen us towing you. Then they followed us here at a distance, to see what they could see."
"Like the bear who climbed over the mountain," chanted Terry with a laugh.
"Do you think they deliberately ran into your boat?" asked Mr. Tenchard.
"Sure!" declared Warren impulsively.
"I thought so at first, Wawa," said Martin. "But it may have been as Jake said."
"Wawa?" questioned the racer with a slight smile.
"Our pet name for him," Terry explained. "That's what he used to call himself when he couldn't pronounce 'Warren.’ "
"And these two will never let me forget it," Warren said. "But I suppose we can't credit Jake with any special motive in ramming our boat."
"Except general cussedness," chuckled Terry. "He always has that streak in him. He might have wanted to damage our motor so we would be out of the Salina races and so give him a better chance."
"So he is that kind of a fellow, is he?" asked Mr. Tenchard.
"Plenty," declared Martin. "But let's try to forget him and Al for a while."
"Not a bad idea, as long as nothing serious happened," agreed Mr. Tenchard. "So you boys are really in earnest about getting a racing boat and trying the Salina regatta?"
"We sure are!" exclaimed Warren.
"A boat like yours," added Terry.
"I think you'll have to get a little larger boat than mine to take the outboard motor you have," suggested the racer. "You'll need a heavier craft."
"We sort of counted on that," said Martin. "We were figuring on two in the boat in each race heat, and that would give us all chances at the game."
"Not a bad idea. That will put you in a different class than mine. I always race alone."
"And you sure race!" complimented Terry.
"Thank you. Well, now let's go in and have some refreshments, and perhaps I can give you boys a little advice about what kind of a boat to get and how to prepare for the races."
"Just what we want!" exclaimed Martin.
Then followed a really enjoyable visit in the "shack," as the racer called what was really a large, comfortable cottage. He gave the boys much good advice about how to prepare themselves for the grueling episodes of outboard racing and talked of the different kinds of motors and craft adapted to them.
Martin and his chums told of some of their experiences with outboards in the past, touching on their strange adventures and speaking hopefully of what might lie in the future.
"That's one thing Wawa is worrying about," said Terry, as they sat about the table where there were sandwiches and cakes as well as chocolate, coffee, and tea, for the racer was partial to coffee.
"What's that?" asked Mr. Tenchard.
"He's afraid there won't be any mystery for us to get mixed up with if we go to Salina Bay."
"Oh, come off!" begged Warren.
"You've been out there, Mr. Tenchard," Martin suggested. "What sort of place is it?"
"Rather out of the way and a bit wild and desolate. It's a salt-mining section, as you know, and there are a lot of men around there who work in the mines, digging out the rock salt, which is afterward refined. You know, of course, that Salina Bay, which is at the mouth of Shark River, gets its great saltiness because of water from these salt mines getting into it in some way. And you know that because the waters of the bay are so heavy with salt, it makes an ideal place for outboard racing."
The boys admitted they had this knowledge.
"But we don't really know anything about Salina Bay as a place to stay while the races are on," said Martin.
"Is there a city there?" asked Terry.
"Not what you'd call a city. Just a settlement. The population increases rapidly for the few days of the racing season until it is a problem to accommodate all the officials, drivers, and mechanics. As for the spectators, most of them come and go in autos, and they find housing accommodations in surrounding towns. If you boys plan to go out there, you'd better get busy now and write for sleeping and eating reservations. Otherwise you'll be out of luck."
"I didn't think of that," Martin said.
"Couldn't we take a tent and camp out?" Terry asked.
"Oh, yes, a great many do. That would be all right."
"But you can't promise anything that looks like a mystery for Wawa, can you?" asked Terry, moving out of the reach of his chum's suddenly flying fist.
"Well, no, I can't think of a mystery at Salina Bay offhand," was the laughing rejoinder. "There's a queer old tower out there, though, near a desolate sort of cove. Maybe you can find a mystery in that. I believe it is said to have been erected by the early settlers as a sort of windmill pump. It's mostly in ruins, or was the last time I saw it. Maybe it's been pulled down by this time."
"A queer old tower," murmured Martin. "Sounds rather hopeful as a mystery base."
"I hope you find it," said Mr. Tenchard. "And now about your racing boat. Here's what I would do."
CHAPTER VIII A New Name
EAGERLY the boys listened to what the racer told them about the proper kind of a craft to get, to which their outboard motor could be attached. He suggested several styles and told where they were built, naming the different companies.
"There seems to be a lot of them," commented Martin, who, as were his chums, appeared to be in a sort of hopeless, floundering maze as to what was best to do.
"You really ought to go to the factory or salesroom and pick out the boat you like best," suggested Mr. Tenchard.
"I don't see how we can do that without losing too much time from school," said Terry. For the nearest salesroom or factory where these special racing boats could be bought was many miles away.
"I guess we'll have to order it by mail on Mr. Tenchard's recommendation," proposed Warren.
Realizing the boys' position and understanding their diffidence, the racer, with a smile, said: "If you want me to, I'll buy that boat for you."
"Will you?" they cried joyously and as one.
"That'll be fine!" supplemented Warren. "But maybe it's too much trouble."
"No trouble at all. I have to go away from here on a little trip about some business. It will give me a chance to order a new propeller for my Butterfly, and as I'm particular about such things I want to see it before I buy it. Now please don't think I'm at all interested in the concern that built my racer, for I am not, but if you would be satisfied to get it from that company, and if you think you want a boat like mine, only larger for your more powerful motor, I'd be glad to look after the matter for you."
"That would be great!" exclaimed Terry.
"Then you'll buy the racer for us, will you?" asked Warren. "I mean," he hastened to add, "after we give you the money. Martin is going to get a good part of it from the insurance company."
"That's right," Martin admitted. "We're expecting the check any day now, from Mr. Taylor."
"But we have some cash on hand," suggested Warren.
"All right, boys, then I'll go ahead and arrange to buy that boat for you. And you needn't wait until you get your insurance check. You need only make a down payment on the craft. The one I pick out for you may need some slight alterations, so it will take perhaps a week after I pick her out. A partial payment will do, and you can send the remainder when you get your insurance money."
"Say, this sure is luck!" exulted Terry.
"You bet!” came fervently from Martin and Warren.
"But are you sure it won't be too much trouble for you?" asked Terry.
"Not at all!" was the hearty response. "Didn't you boys tow me in when I might have been drifting around the lake yet? I'm only too glad to help you this way."
"Of course Jake Lawson might have happened past, and he would have offered to tow you," suggested Warren.
"From what you tell me of him, I'm just as glad he didn't," said the racer. "And from the fashion he bumped into your boat I consider myself lucky he didn't tow me. My Butterfly, like all these outboard racers, is a frail thing. You'll have to handle your new craft with gloves on, so to speak."
"We will!" promised Warren.
Then followed more talk, questions from the boys about the racing game and answers by Mr. Tenchard. The boys didn't seem to want to go, and their host showed no desire to be rid of their company.
But at last Martin suggested they had better be getting back to Stirling, and after more thanks for his kindness, the trio took leave of the racer and were soon chugging back in the clumsy rowboat.
"Well, here you are," remarked Sylvanus Bogg as Warren steered the boat up to the float.
"No, this isn't us," said Terry, for, like his chums, he liked to tease the boathouse boy. "These are our disembodied spirits."
"Gosh, I knew something happened!" exclaimed young Bogg. "I saw you stop out there near Rattlesnake Island and have to be towed. I was looking at you through Mr. Demerest's glass, and I was going to come out and help you, but I've had so much to do—"
"You certainly are a busy man, Syl," remarked Martin.
"Boy, you said it! Why, since the fire I've had so much to do I can't hardly get time to eat."
"I thought you were getting thinner and I wondered why. Now I know," said Warren, with a grave face.
"Oh, gosh, yes!" murmured Syl as he made fast the boat. He took himself very seriously.
The outboard motor was taken off and carried up to the shed where it was kept.
"Tomorrow we'll go over those wire connections and make sure they won't come loose again," Martin said as they walked on toward their homes.
The next day they arranged to pool their savings to take to Mr. Tenchard to make the initial payment on the boat. They met after school and walked on down to the dock, intending to get the same big rowboat and go over to Rattlesnake Island.
Two girls were just ahead of the boys as they neared the dock, and, hearing the voices of the lads, the girls turned.
"There's Ruth and Louise," remarked Terry, as he recognized the sisters with whom they had spent more than one pleasant evening.
"Hello!" greeted Martin, his chums chiming in the greeting.
"Oh, hello!" said the sisters, and then Ruth, putting a wisp of her blonde hair under her little hat, asked: "Where you going?"
"For a little ride," Martin answered.
"Over to Rattlesnake," added Terry.
"Want to come?" invited Warren.
"Oh, indeed we do!" laughed Louise, whose dark red hair was in pleasing contrast to her sister's lighter tresses. "We were just wondering what to do to kill an hour."
"Poor hour! Why murder it?" groaned Terry.
"Silly!" murmured Louise, but she and her sister laughed.
"Are you sure we won't be in the way or spoil any plans you have?" asked Ruth as the two girls followed the boys to the float.
"Oh, no," Martin said. "We're just going there to buy a racing boat."
"A racing boat!" exclaimed Ruth.
"You tell 'em about it, Wawa," suggested Terry, "while Martin and I go get the motor."
Accordingly, Warren spoke of the plans of the chums to take part in the Salina Bay races and how Mr. Tenchard had offered to buy the boat for them.
"Oh, how positively thrilling!" exclaimed Ruth.
"Marvelous!" chimed in her sister. "I wish we could go out there and see you race."
"We'd like to have you," Warren said, for the girls were quite chummy with the boys. "But we're likely to have to rough it. Not many accommodations out there, you know—it only comes to life once a year—at regatta time. Why, we may even have to live in a ghostly old secret tower!"
"Oh, how wonderful!" cried Ruth.
"That would be the best part of it," declared Louise. "But I don't see how we can manage it."
"No, I guess it's just a dream," said Warren.
Terry and Martin came along then, carrying the outboard motor, which was soon clamped to the stern of the comfortable but clumsy rowboat. The girls were invited to take their places amidships.
"Where you won't be wet with the terrific spray we will toss up," suggested Warren.
"Oh, are you going to try to race now, for practice?" asked Ruth.
"Race, in this tub!" cried Terry. "We can't get but about six miles an hour out of her. But that isn't the motor's fault," he added.
As they were shoving off and Warren was preparing to pull the starting cord, young Bogg came hurrying to the float.
"I see you're going on a picnic," he grinned.
"I see your face is all black, Syl," taunted Martin.
"Oh, gosh darn it—I mean excuse me, girls, but is it?" and he made haste to rub his hands over his cheeks.
"You're only making it worse," laughed Terry.
"Oh, heck! I get smudged up every day on account of so much dirt being around after the fire," lamented the boathouse boy. He hurried back to his quarters, presumably to wash, and away chugged the boat, for the motor responded at the first turn of the flywheel, much to Warren's delight.
They headed out into the lake toward Rattlesnake Island, and on the way little was talked of but the coming races.
"What are you going to call your new boat?" asked Ruth.
"Watermar III, I guess," said her sister with a laugh. "They can't seem to get away from that name."
"Fellows, I have a grand ideal" suddenly exclaimed Martin. "A new name for our new racer that may bring us luck."
"What's the name?" asked Terry.
"Give you one guess," Martin answered, looking intently first at Ruth and then at Louise.
"I have it—the Rulo!" exclaimed Warren.
"Right!" cried Martin, for it had just occurred to him it would be a pretty compliment to pay their girl friends, using for the name of the new boat the first two letters of Ruth's and Louise's names. "I christen thee Rulo!" he announced, dipping his hand into the lake and sprinkling a few drops on each of the girls.
CHAPTER IX Danger
LOUISE looked at Martin, and, with a smile, wiping the few drops of water from her face with a little handkerchief which seemed wholly inadequate for the work, asked:
"Do you really mean that?"
"Sure I do! What about it, fellows?" Martin appealed to his two chums.
"Of course," said Warren.
"That name goes," added Terry. "And I hope the Rulo will be a credit to her name."
"Can't help it!" commented Martin.
"Well," remarked Ruth, "I think this is one of the nicest things you boys have ever done."
"And they've always been nice to us," said her sister.
"Easy on the oil!" laughed Warren. "Easy on the oil!"
They all laughed, and as the old tub of a boat chugged along, the talk was mostly about the new project of the boys and their hopes of winning at least one race.
"What's this Warren tells us about you having to live in some old ghostly tower out at Salina Bay?" asked Ruth.
"Ghost tower?" repeated Terry. "Have you been stringing the girls, Wawa?"
"Oh, we were talking about how primitive it is out at Salina Bay, nothing much there except the influx of racers and visitors once a year," Warren defended himself. "And I mentioned that old tower Mr. Tenchard told us about."
"Oh," came from Terry and Martin in a sort of duet. The tones of their voices were distinctly discounting.
"Don't tell us there is no ghost or secret!" begged Louise.
"None that we know of," said Terry.
"At least tell us there's a tower," suggested Ruth.
"So Mr. Tenchard says," admitted Martin. "But that's all we know about it. Let's forget it."
"Oh, but you are spoiling all the romance," complained Louise.
"Just like boys!" chided Ruth.
"We'll try to make it up to you by hinting to Mr. Tenchard that, after we give him our money as a first payment on the boat, he invite you to stay to tea," offered Martin.
"Oh, do you think he will?" asked Ruth eagerly.
"I don't see how he can help it," remarked Warren with a frank look at the two pretty sisters.
"I'll owe you for that one," laughed Ruth.
They were nearing Rattlesnake Island when suddenly, from around the point of a smaller one near it, there shot out a small boat equipped with an outboard motor that was fairly causing the craft to leap out of the water with its speed. There were two figures in the boat.
"Look at those fellows go!" exclaimed Warren.
"They must be practising for a race," said Terry.
"They're heading too much this way to please me," said Martin. "Hey you!" he shouted in a loud voice as the other boat was steered nearer the craft containing the boys and girls. "Keep off! You are too near! Keep away!"
It was doubtful whether the two in the rushing boat heard him, so much noise was their motor making. They did not seem to see the rowing craft and now were headed directly for it.
"Oh!" screamed Ruth. "They'll run us down!"
"Darn fools!" shouted Terry.
"What shall we do?' begged Louise, cowering down on the seat and pulling her sister with her.
"Keep away! Keep off!" yelled the three boys in a chorus.
Whether their voices carried to the two foolhardy racers or whether the latter looked up and saw the danger into which they were apparently heading was never known. But the helm of the oncoming racer was suddenly shifted, and it shot past the rowboat with such a narrow margin to spare as to cause the hearts of all in it nearly to stop beating for an instant.
"Jake Lawson again!" cried Martin as the racer shot past.
"We'll get him for this!" angrily shouted Warren.
"Looks as if he did it deliberately," added Terry.
There was no time to say more, for now the wash created by the speeding boat had reached the other craft. In spite of her broad beam she rocked dangerously, tossing up and down on the heavy swell.
Ruth, who had resumed an upright position, as she saw the immediate risk of a collision passing away, had leaned over the side slightly. And now as the boat rocked violently she was almost pitched overboard.
"Look out!" cried Warren, who had steered the rowboat sharply away when he saw the other craft coming toward them.
Terry caught the girl just in time and pulled her back to safety.
"Oh!" cried Louise. "If you had fallen in!"
They were considerably agitated by the narrow escape from injury, but the fright passed in a few seconds as the wash subsided and that vicinity of lake calmed.
"If they had hit us," murmured Ruth, "it would have been terrible. Thank you, Terry," she said, patting the hand that was still on her arm. "You saved me."
"Well, perhaps I kept your dress from getting wet," he admitted with a laugh that was somewhat nervous. In fact they were all nervous and a bit distraught.
"Of all the mean tricks!" exclaimed Martin. "The next time I meet Jake Lawson—"
"Do you think he did it deliberately?" asked Ruth.
"No, I can't really say that," Martin was forced to admit. "For if he had crashed into us there wouldn't have been anything left of his boat. Ours is so much heavier. But he'd probably have cut us half in two, anyhow."
"I think he was stunting and wanted to throw a scare into us," suggested Terry.
"Most likely," agreed Warren. "But if it was that, or even carelessness, which it may have been, he and Al Barton have something coming to them."
"And we'll see that they get it," said Martin with a grim smile.
"Too bad this had to happen," remarked Warren as he headed the boat around on Rattlesnake Island again. "It spoils the trip for you girls."
"Oh, I'm all right now," Ruth made haste to say.
"Don't worry about us," begged her sister.
But the hearts of the three boys were bitter against Jake Lawson.
"That's a new bus he has," commented Warren as they neared the dock of the blue boathouse on the shore at the Tenchard cottage.
"Didn't look exactly new," objected Terry. "But it's a racer all right. About the size of the one we're going to get, I should say."
"Maybe Jake bought it from some fellow," suggested Martin, "though I didn't know there was such a boat around here. Anyhow, it was going fast."
"I'll say," echoed Warren.
They chugged up to the dock and saw Mr. Tenchard standing there and looking at his own racing craft from which the motor had been removed. He glanced up and smiled as the boys and girls approached.
"Glad to see you!" he called.
"We've brought the first payment money for our boat," Martin said.
"And some more company," added Warren.
"Glad to have you all. Will the ladies do me the honor of having tea with me?" he asked, bowing formally when the introductions had been made.
"We'd be delighted," said Louise.
"And I think Ruth might like two cups," said Martin. "Her nerves are sort of shot."
"What's the matter?" asked Mr. Tenchard quickly.
"We were quite close to what might have been a serious accident," stated Terry, and the incident was related.
"Such fellows as that Jake Lawson shouldn't be allowed on the lake!" indignantly exclaimed the racer. "I think I'll report him to the motorboat inspector here."
"It would be a good idea," agreed Martin.
Mr. Tenchard led the way up to his cottage, the girls audibly admiring his rock garden, and soon they were all making merry around the table. Mr. Tenchard's housekeeper, an elderly woman, brought in the refreshments.
The talk, naturally, turned to racing, even the girls becoming interested in what their boy friends planned to do. The money was given over, and Mr. Tenchard promised to leave in a few days to go to the factory and pick out the new boat.
"Have 'em paint the name on," suggested Martin. "It's to be Rulo," and he told how it was derived.
"A fine idea," declared the racer. "And now won't you have some more tea?"
Before anyone could answer, the housekeeper came into the room. She seemed a bit disturbed as she announced :
"A policeman to see you, Mr. Tenchard."
CHAPTER X The Racing Boat
TENCHARD looked somewhat surprised. So did the boys, also. As for Ruth and Louise, they looked from face to face as if to ascertain what the housekeeper's remark portended.
"A policeman?" repeated the racer in puzzled tones. "Yes, sir—at least he looks like a policeman, for he has brass buttons and gold braid on his coat, and he just landed from a boat at your dock."
"A policeman," murmured Mr. Tenchard. "They don't often come to Rattlesnake Island. In fact the Stirling or Wiltshire police have no jurisdiction on Rattlesnake. It's under county rule. Well, show him in, Mrs. Benson. I hardly think he can be after any of us," he went on with a laugh. "Unless you young people have been committing some crime of which I know nothing."
"My conscience is clear," Martin said.
The housekeeper withdrew, and soon heavy feet were heard tramping into the cottage. A moment later there entered the room a tall, broad-shouldered man, wearing what is commonly designated as a yachting cap, and a coat with, as Mrs. Benson had described, gold braid and brass buttons.
"Oh, Mr. Moffatt!" exclaimed the racer with a smile. "What brings you here? My housekeeper described you as a policeman, to which I suppose you don't object, for you are rather in that line. Have you come to tell me you have fished up my lost propeller?"
"No, Mr. Tenchard," was the smiling answer. "As a matter of fact I didn't know you'd lost one. But what I called about is this: A little while ago my partner, Chuck Bliss, and I were patrolling the lake, as the season is beginning to get lively now, and we saw what looked almost like a collision.
"One boat, a racer, got away, but we saw the other put in around here, so we motored over to find out what was wrong. We saw the one boat that was in this mix-up tied to your dock, so I thought I'd just ask if you know anything about it."
"I guess you mean what Jake Lawson and Al Barton tried to do to us, Mr. Moffatt," said Terry, for the boys, as well as Mr. Tenchard, had recognized the visitor as one of the inland water inspectors in the government service. Harry Moffatt and James (Chuck) Bliss were assigned to Lake Otter and were supposed to see that all power boats were properly registered, the owners or operators licensed, and that each boat was properly equipped with signaling devices, life preservers, and other things necessary for safety. In addition the two inspectors were given police powers to look after all law violations on the lake.
"So that's who it was," remarked Inspector Moffatt when Jake Lawson's name was mentioned. "Just what did he do?"
The boys, who knew the inspector well, related the happening, and Martin told how nearly Ruth had been tossed overboard by the swell created when Jake's boat speeded past so swiftly.
"If I arrest that young scamp, will you boys appear against him?" asked the inspector, making some notes of the occurrence and jotting down the boys' names.
"What do you say, fellows?" asked Warren of his chums.
"He certainly ought to be arrested," declared Martin. "But here's the point: We couldn't swear that he did what he did deliberately. He and Al were working at the motor and didn't seem to be looking where they were going. Then, too, Jake is on probation now. If he's arrested again it may go pretty hard with him.
"He's mean and tricky and all that, but I'd hate to see him have to go to jail now that summer is coming. I don't believe we could really prove anything," said Warren.
"Couldn't you throw a scare into him?" asked Terry.
"Yes," the inspector answered, smiling, "I suppose I could. Chuck and I tried to chase that speedboat, after we saw the fracas, but our boat isn't quite up to such work, so we did the next best thing and followed you here. But I'm not going to let Jake Lawson get away with any such stuff as that. Chuck and I will pick him up and make him think he's in for a bad time. That may calm him down. What's his idea, anyhow, scooting over Lake Otter at that dangerous speed?"
"I guess he's training for the Salina races," suggested Warren.
"We're going in them ourselves, after Mr. Tenchard gets our boat for us," said Martin. "And I guess Jake knows that and, thinking we may get his number, he's trying to scare us out before we get in."
"I wouldn't put it past him," said the inspector grimly. "Well, Chuck and I can easily pick him and Al up, sooner or later, and we'll put him through a course of sprouts. You won't have any more trouble from him."
"Maybe not here," said Martin. "But if he goes out to Salina Bay we're likely to see more of him than we want to."
"Salina Bay is out of my jurisdiction," said Mr. Moffatt with a smile. "But I'll look after Jake on Lake Otter." He left, declining a cup of tea, and when his boat, with his partner in it, had chugged away there was quite a discussion in the cottage over how Jake would act when given his "course of sprouts."
"He certainly is mean," said Louise.
"I hope he doesn't make any more trouble," murmured her sister.
"I wish we could have that hope realized," remarked Warren.
The talk then turned to boats and racing. Mr. Tenchard said he would hurry the shipment of the boys' new craft as much as he could. He showed them illustrations of the model they had picked out from the manufacturer's catalog and then, when final details had been talked over, the little party left to return to Stirling.
On the way back they looked for a sight of Jake's racing boat but saw nothing of her.
"I suppose we won't see much of you boys after you get your racer," suggested Louise a little sadly, as she and her sister got out at Demerest's dock.
"And as for having a ride now and then, I suppose that isn't to be thought of," added Ruth. "Those racing boats are so small they only hold one, and I wouldn't want to be the driver."
"Ours is going to hold two, and maybe, when we aren't racing, we could get three in on a pinch," said Terry. "So we can promise you girls a little trip now and then."
"Oh, that will be great!" exclaimed Louise.
"Fine!" echoed her sister.
It was a week after the episode with Jake Lawson, during which interim nothing of moment had happened, that Martin Hazzard received a postcard from the railroad agent in Stirling informing him that a large crate awaited him at the freight office.
"The boat has arrived, fellows!" Martin excitedly telephoned to his two chums, for it had been shipped in his name.
"We'll be right over and go down to take a look," was the import of the replies from Terry and Warren.
Luckily this was on a Saturday, when they were free from school, or it is probable that their studies would have suffered. For they would never have been able to give Latin and trigonometry any attention after receiving the portentous news.
They hurried to the freight office, paid the charges, engaged a truck to take the crated boat to Demerest's dock, and then, with the help of the admiring Sylvanus, began knocking the crate apart.
"Careful now!" warned Martin as the boat boy made an alarming swing at a slat to knock it loose. "Don't hit the boat whatever you do. They've got a skin like a baby's, smooth as satin, and the least dent means a loss of speed."
"Aw, I didn't bang her," said young Mr. Bogg. "Guess I know how to take care of boats!"
"Well, don't rough this one so we'll have to dust her with talcum powder, Syl," warned Warren.
"Talcum powder!" exclaimed the youth, eyes wide with wonder. "Do they put talcum powder on these racing boats?"
"Of course!" said Terry, entering into the spirit of his chum's little joke. "And they often give them an alcohol rub just before a race."
"Gosh! I didn't know that," said Syl. "I’ll be more careful. Are you going to keep your racer here until you go to Salina?"
"We would if we thought she'd be given good care," said Martin,
"Oh, I'll see to that! I'll watch over her," young Bogg promised. "I'll get a tin of talcum powder myself."
"Violet flavor," said Warren, trying not to chuckle.
"I'll remember. Violet."
The last slat was carefully knocked off, the heavy paper wrappings removed, and then the trim mahogany racing craft was exposed to view on the dock.
Martin Hazzard had no sooner, with his chums, run his eyes over the boat, taking in her trim racing lines, than he exclaimed:
"Fellows, there's something wrong! This isn't the boat we bought!"
CHAPTER XI An Offer of Help
MARTIN'S two chums stared at him in amazement. Sylvanus, after helping to uncrate the boat, had gone to some of his various duties around the dock and the boathouse which was being rebuilt after the fire.
"Not the boat we bought!" exclaimed Terry.
"What do you mean?" Warren wanted to know.
"Look!" went on Martin, pointing to the manufacturer's name on a brass plate at the stern of the boat. "This is the runabout model. The one we ordered was the skiff model. This is a much finer and better boat, a little larger than the skiff model, and must have cost nearly twice as much. Fellows, we're sunk! We never can pay for this boat, even with the insurance check! Mr. Tenchard must have made a mistake!"
"Or else they did at the factory," suggested Terry.
"They don't make mistakes like that at the factory," was Martin's opinion. "It is a costly error. It's in our favor, of course, but we can't take advantage of it, and we can't afford this runabout model. What I think is this: Mr. Tenchard—and he's been very kind to us—is so taken up with his own racing plans that he just made a mistake and ordered the wrong boat for us."
"But if this costs so much more than the skiff model we thought we were going to get," argued Terry, "how could Mr. Tenchard make the first down payment with the cash we gave him? It wasn't much when you think in terms of racing boats. It's a wonder the factory took it and then shipped a much more expensive model than what we asked for."
"That can be explained in this way," suggested Warren. "They know Mr. Tenchard at the factory. He races their boats, and they know his credit is good for the balance."
"Unfortunately ours isn't—not for this boat," said Martin with a grim little laugh. "I know about what we'll get in that insurance check. Mr. Taylor told me yesterday it would be along the first of the coming week. It won't be enough to pay the balance due on this fine boat."
"Then what'll we do?" asked Warren.
"We'll have to ship this back, of course. And there may be quite a delay in getting the model we're entitled to. It's too bad—this mistake—for it means delay, and we ought to begin to practise racing soon if we're going to have any show at all against the hard-boiled fellows we'll run up against at Salina," Martin said.
"Say, fellows, I have another idea!" exclaimed Terry.
"What?" asked his two chums.
"Let's go see Mr. Tenchard and ask his advice. Maybe he can have the boat we thought we were paying for shipped at once and we can ship this back later. Then there would be no delay."
"Not a bad idea," agreed Martin. "Let's go."
It did not take long to attach their reliable outboard motor to the old rowing craft they had been using while waiting for their new boat, and they were soon on their way to Rattlesnake Island.
On the way they talked about the evident mistake and from that went into raptures over the runabout model which had been left on the dock with strict orders to young Mr. Bogg to guard it carefully.
"That boat is a pippin!" sighed Terry.
"But too rich for our blood," said Martin.
"Oh, we'll be able to do pretty well with the skiff," suggested Warren. "There's one thing I'm sort of sorry for," he went on.
"What's that?" Martin wanted to know.
"This racing business is all right, and I'm for it, strong. But we can't go on any cruises or have much of a picnic with a racer around Lake Otter," Terry said. "A racing boat isn't built for hard knockabout fun. I think we'll miss the good times we had in the original Watermar and in the houseboat."
"I was thinking of that," Martin stated. "And what I thought was this: If we have any luck at all, and win a race, even a minor one, the prize may be enough so we can get ourselves another boat."
"You mean a sort of cruiser?" asked Terry.
"Sure! I agree that we can't go on any long trips in a racer," continued Martin. "But some of those Salina prizes are big ones. I think this time there's a small cabin cruiser offered for the winner in some race. And I know the money prizes run from two hundred and fifty to a thousand dollars. Of course we wouldn't dare think of a thousand-dollar prize, but we might cop a smaller amount."
"If we take a money prize, won't that make us professionals?" asked Warren.
"We should worry about that!" laughed Terry.
"After this regatta, we probably won't want to go in for the racing game regular."
"That's probably true," admitted Martin. "I think we can safely accept a money prize if they'll give it to us."
"I don't want 'em to give it to us!" said Terry quickly. "We want to win it."
There was so much to talk about this angle of the race that the boys reached Rattlesnake Island much sooner than they expected to, in spite of the comparatively slow speed of the big rowboat pushed by their outboard motor.
They saw Mr. Tenchard's little racing craft carefully moored at his dock. On the dock was the motor with a new propeller, as the boys could note.
"Guess he's getting ready for a trial run," suggested Martin.
They walked up to the blue cottage. The door was open, and a look inside showed the place to be in confusion. Many things were scattered about, and in one room was a trunk, open and partly packed, and two valises in the same state of disorder.
"I wonder if anything has happened," said Terry in a low voice as he knocked, bells being out of style on lake cottages.
"Hello, boys! Come in!" Mr. Tenchard invited as he appeared in the hall in his shirt sleeves. He seemed very busy, but showed no indication that anything was wrong. "Glad to see you," he went on, "though I'm afraid you'll find the place pretty much upset. I'm packing to go away."
"Go away!" faltered Warren.
"Yes, I'm going to hit the trail for Salina Bay. It's a bit early, but I'm packing to go now, and I've sent for a man to crate my boat and motor. I want to get in a lot of practice out there, and I've just gotten the new propeller. It's a late model, and I may have to have some changes made in the pitch. I want to find that out before the races start. I'm going in for the big money this time, boys. But come in. I'm busy, but I can manage to talk between stuffing socks in my shoes."
"We didn't come for a visit," Martin said, "and we don't want to detain you. But we just got our new racing boat, and there seems to be some mistake."
"Mistake?" repeated Mr. Tenchard, and Warren thought he saw a half-smile on the racer's face. "What kind?"
"They sent us a runabout model instead of the skiff model you so kindly picked out for us," Martin explained. "We thought there was a mix-up at the factory. This runabout model is too expensive for us. But we think there may be some delay if we send this one back and have to wait until they receive it before they ship us the one we ought to have. So we thought we'd ask you—"
"There hasn't been any mistake, boys," said Mr. Tenchard, this time smiling broadly. "You like the runabout model, don't you?"
"No mistake?" murmured Warren in a sort of daze.
"No mistake, boys," the racer repeated. "Here's what happened: After I went to the plant about my propeller and I saw the different racing models on display, and told the manager, who is a friend of mine, that I wanted a boat for some boys up here at Otter, he very kindly gave me the benefit of the wholesale price for you. So he sold you the runabout model at the wholesale price, which is about the same as the retail price of the skiff model. The factory doesn't lose a cent, and you boys are the gainers."
"I'll say we are!" cried Warren.
"And some!" echoed Terry.
"Then we don't have to ship the runabout model back?" asked Martin.
"Not unless you want to." Mr. Tenchard was laughing now.
"Well, we sure don't want to!" exclaimed Warren. "That boat will be the making of us!"
"Yes," admitted their host and benefactor, "I think you stand a much better chance of winning a Salina race in a runabout type than with a skiff model. So if this is all that's on your minds, wipe it off and get ready. I'm sorry I can't be here to give you some points on racing your new boat, but I think you can easily pick up the technique. You know all about motors. The matter of steering and keeping on the course with safety will come with practice. And you still have time to get some practice here before you have to leave for Salina. Sorry I can't stay and coach you, but I really must leave tomorrow."
"Oh, that's all right," Martin said. "We'll manage to dub through somehow."
"If we can't, with this dandy boat you got for us, we ought not to win a race!" declared Warren.
"You'll be all right," was the racer's opinion. "And now I must go on with my packing. I arranged at the factory that you are to send the balance due, which will be the amount of your insurance check, as soon as you get it."
"That will be Monday or Tuesday," Martin said.
"Take even longer if you need to. Your credit is good out there on my say-so. Now, boys, I wish you all kinds of luck, and I'll see you in Salina," concluded Mr. Tenchard, shaking hands all around.
"At the mysterious tower!" chuckled Terry.
"Oh, yes, the old tower. Only I don't know anything about a mystery."
"Terry is going to supply that," laughed Martin.
They said good-bye, hurried down to the dock, and were soon chugging back to Stirling, talking of nothing on the way back but their extraordinary good luck in getting a boat worth twice (at retail) what they had paid. They fairly bubbled over with enthusiasm.
It did not take long to put the Rulo, as the new racing craft had been named, into the water. Then the outboard motor was carefully clamped on, and the three boys got in. Though designed only for two in a race, there was room for the trio, though of course not with as much comfort as there would have been in an ordinary craft.
"Spin her!" called Martin to Warren, who was nearest the motor.
Warren pulled on the starting cord, and the motor, as if determined not to put the boys to shame before their new boat, went off like a shot. Away darted the Rulo—but it was evident that something was wrong.
She did not mind her helm, and had not Warren quickly shut off the motor the fine new craft would have collided with another boat anchored not far away.
"What's the matter?" asked Terry in alarm.
"Hanged if I know," Warren answered.
"Evidently we have something to learn about these racing boats," remarked Martin as, with a boathook, he fended their Rulo away from the other.
Suddenly a voice from the dock, which they were still close to, hailed, asking:
"You fellows want any help?"
"We seem to," answered Warren before his chums had a chance to see who was making this most opportune offer.
CHAPTER XII New Adjustments
MARTIN looked up to see a short, rather thickset man, with a very tanned face, watching them from the dock which had been rebuilt since the fire damaged it. He wore a blue tie which made his complexion seem all the darker by contrast, and he was nonchalantly chewing on a splinter he had picked up from some boards the carpenters had not taken away.
"Who's your friend?" Martin asked Warren in a low voice.
"I don't know him any more than you do," was the reply.
"You spoke to him," Terry reminded his chum.
"Well, he asked us if we needed help and I said we seemed to," was Warren's retort. "Don't we?"
"Sure do," Martin agreed. "But I wonder if this chap knows how to give it to us. Either of you see him before?"
"I've seen him around the boathouse several times in the last week," Warren said, "but I don't even know his name. But he looks all right, and if he can tell us what's wrong with our new boat I'll say he deserves a vote of thanks.”
"We might give him a try," suggested Martin.
By this time the Rulo had drifted back almost to the place from which she had started a few minutes before, toward the float. The man who had hailed the boys walked down the inclined gangway and stood waiting for them to make the craft fast.
"Spingarn racer, runabout type, eh?" remarked the stranger as he cast what seemed to be a critical eye over the new craft. He had correctly named the firm manufacturing the racing boat and her style. This at once set him up in the opinion of the chums, for he had had no chance to see the manufacturer's name on the stern. It was in too small letters to have been read from where he stood, anyhow.
"Yes, she's a Spingarn," Martin said.
"And we nearly went into a spin with her," said Terry ruefully.
"I can tell you what's wrong, if you don't mind my doing it," said the dark-faced stranger.
"Go ahead," invited Warren. "The only thing I know is that the outboard motor isn't on backward. It's hooked up right."
"Yes," admitted the other, "but you've got it tilted at the wrong angle. These racing boats have to set with the bow pretty well up out of the water. Your bow dug in too deep. I think you'll have to put a little extra backing on the stern, where you clamp the motor fast, and give it a deeper tilt."
"That won't be hard to do," said Terry.
"No. I could make you some temporary blocks out of wood I can pick up right on this dock," the man went on. "Of course for a nice job you'd want the blocks fastened on permanently and varnished."
"You seem to know something about boats," remarked Martin with more respect than at first.
"Well, I ought to. I've been in the outboard racing game for quite a while. Reba is my name, Max Reba. Maybe you've heard of me," he said with perhaps a pardonable air of importance.
Warren was going to say he hadn't had the honor, but Martin, quick to sense an advantage, made a shot in the dark and asked:
"You raced at Salina Bay, didn't you?"
"Sure! I've raced there, at Miami, down the Hudson—lots of places. I may go out to Salina this season. I'm always glad to help young fellows. So if you want me to, I might give you some points on how to handle a racing outboard boat. I take it you're going in some races or you wouldn't have a Spingarn."
"We hope to go to Salina," said Warren.
"Good! Then I may see you there. Now about putting your motor on the way it should go. I'll tell you my opinion. You don't have to take it, and if anybody can tell you better, let '.m. But I'd be glad to help you."
"And we sure need help," admitted Martin.
The Rulo was carefully made fast to the dock, and Max Reba, who, the boys thought, looked like an Italian, illustrated what he meant by a change in pitch of the motor by some rough drawings on a smooth piece of board he picked up. The boys didn't quite understand it, but they got the general idea from the talks they had had with Mr. Tenchard.
"Now if you want me to," went on Reba, "I can fix this boat up for you temporarily and you can make another try."
"It will be fine of you f you will," said Terry, and his chums nodded their agreement.
"Wait until I pick up a few odd blocks of wood," said Reba, as he went up on the dock.
"Say, Martin," asked Terry in a low voice when Reba was out of hearing, "did you ever hear of this fellow racing at Salina?"
"No, I never did."
"Then what made you say so?"
"Oh, it was only to make him feel good. After all, w. may have heard of him. Mr. Tenchard mentioned so many racers who took part in regattas there and other places that he might have spoken of Max Reba for all I know. Really, I mean it."
"Anyhow, it was good dope," said Warren.
"And if he shows us what's wrong, we'll owe him something," said Terry.
Reba came back to the float carrying several small pieces of smooth wood, more or less triangular in shape. He had picked them up on the dock above.
"We'll soon have this baby working like she ought to," he said. "I'll come back there, if you don't mind," he told Warren, who was still in the stern near the motor.
"Oh, yes," the boys said. "But this boat won't hold more than three."
"I know it. What I plan to do, if you want me to, is to take you out, one at a time, and give you some instruction after I get the motor set right."
"That'll be fine," declared Martin.
"You're going to rig this bus with a steering wheel, aren't you?" Reba asked, for on this first trial, which had so nearly ended disastrously, the outboard motor was steered by the attached handle that is a part of all stock engines.
"Oh, sure," said Warren.
"I thought so. You won't get very far in a race steering by the motor handle."
Reba was working as he talked, loosening the clamping screws of the outboard motor and adjusting it at an angle which would cause the propeller to be farther under the surface of the water when the craft was running.
"There, I think that'll do for a temporary arrangement," he said, after looking the engine over. "Now who wants to go out with me for the first trial? I don't promise you that she'll work perfectly this first time, either," he went on. "It may take quite a few adjustments."
"It's very kind of you to take all this trouble," said Martin.
"Not at all, kid! I'm crazy about outboard boats. Well, who's coming with me?"
"You go, Martin," suggested Terry.
"Sure!" agreed Warren.
“All right. Then you fellows can have your shots."
As Martin took his place in the Rulo with Max Reha, and as Terry and Warren got out on the float, Jake Lawson strolled down to the edge of the dock. He seemed much interested in what was going on.
"Take it easy, Terry!" warned Warren in a low voice, for it seemed as if Terry were about to make a jump for Jake.
CHAPTER XIII The Rocks
TERRY needed just this little caution from Warren, for the thought of all that Jake Lawson had done and the remembrance of his latest escapade in nearly capsizing the rowboat rankled in Terry's mind.
Martin was so occupied in listening to what Reba had to say about the new arrangement of the outboard motor that it is doubtful whether he had noticed the recent advent of Jake Lawson. If he did he said nothing.
"Now we'll see how she rides," commented the new instructor as he took his place at the stern, where he could manage the motor and steer with the rubber-cushioned handle attached to the propeller. For there is really no rudder, properly speaking, on an outboard motor. The propeller is capable of being turned in any direction and thus guides the boat.
"I hope it works all right," Martin remarked.
"I think she will. If she doesn't I’ll make her," declared Reba with rather too much confidence in his ability, Martin thought. He murmured something appropriate and watched the dark man.
"You have full pivot steering, I notice," went on Reba, as he settled himself comfortably for the new test.
"Oh, yes," Martin agreed. "The motor is all right. If we can only get it to fit in with the boat, we'll be all right."
"That ought to be easy in a Spingarn," chuckled Reba, who seemed to enjoy thoroughly the self-appointed task before him. He gave the handle of the motor a full turn. The propeller could really be turned in a complete circle, so that the boat could be started or steered in any direction, swung on its center as on a pivot, and instantly reversed by swinging the steering handle in a complete semicircle. "We'll soon get you straightened out," he said.
The motor responded instantly to his pull on the starting cord and, though this was not remarkable, in view of the fact that it had already been warmed up, it showed that the man knew his business. With a confident air he headed the Rulo out into the lake, leaving
Terry and Warren on the float, with Jake Lawson staring insolently down at them from the dock above.
"New boat?" Jake asked, speaking neither to Terry nor Warren but to both, jointly.
"No, just a second-hand tub we made out of a packing box," said Warren.
"Oh, you're getting smart, aren't you?" inquired Jake.
"If we were half as smart as you are when you try to run boats down with your racer, we'd be somewhere else than here," snapped Terry.
"Who says I tried to run anybody down?" demanded the bully truculently.
"I do!" came angrily from Warren.
"So do I!" echoed Terry.
"Well, you're all wet!" snapped Jake.
"We would have been if you hadn't shifted your course," declared Warren bitterly. "And we might have been worse than all wet."
"Oh, you got me all wrong!" Jake insisted. "I tell you I didn't mean to do that. It was all Al Barton's fault. I'm sorry! You fellows are always picking on me, anyhow. And you needn't think you're the only ones who can enter the Salina races!"
"We wouldn't have thought of entering if we'd known you were going there," said Terry, thinking it was of no use to deny that he and his chums had the Salina Bay regatta in mind. It was public knowledge in Stirling now.
"Oh, is that so?" sneered Jake. "Well, I guess anybody who wants to can enter there. And look here, you fellows! If you go around saying I tried to run you down, I'll—I'll do something!"
"What?" demanded Warren. "Do you want to do anything now? If you do, this float is a good place. I would thoroughly enjoy knocking you into the water from here!"
"Say, you—" began Jake, but he was stopped by a hand on his shoulder and a voice that said:
"Lawson, I want a talk with you!"
It was Inspector Moffatt who had quietly come up behind the bully while he was ranting away.
"Who, me? What's the matter?" asked Jake, swinging around and trying to slip away from the hand on his shoulder. But the inspector had too firm a grip. "I haven't done anything, Mr. Moffatt!"
"Haven't you?" was the cool question. "Well, if you haven't that's easily proved. Let's you and me take a walk down to Chief Lennahan's office. We can talk on the way."
"Look here, now! Oh, say, are you arresting me?" asked Jake in cringing tones, all the false bravado oozing from him.
"No, you aren't arrested—yet," said the inspector with special emphasis on the last word. "Come along!"
"Look here, you fellows!" spluttered Jake, shaking a fist at Terry and Warren, "if you're responsible for this—”
"They have nothing to do with it!" interrupted the inspector. "I am taking you for a walk on my own responsibility. They may be witnesses later, if it comes to a showdown. But, for that matter, I am a witness myself, and so is Chuck Bliss. Now come along and don't talk yourself into jail, which you may do if you keep on."
Thoroughly cowed, Jake accompanied the brass-buttoned official, and as they left the dock Terry and Warren broke into broad grins.
"Serves him right," said Terry.
"Moffatt is keeping his word," remarked Warren.
They looked out over the lake and saw that the Rulo, containing Martin and Reba, was some distance out.
"She seems to be running all right now," observed Terry.
"Yes, and fast, too. I guess we didn't have the motor adjusted right. It's a good thing this Reba came along."'
"He seems to know his business. But I don't just like him, somehow."
"Neither do I. He's a little too cocksure of himself. Thinks he's a big shot."
"Well, maybe he was, once. This outboard racing game makes the professional pretty hard-boiled, I've heard. And this Reba seems to be a professional."
"I believe he is. Well, if he gives us some dope that we need, we can't kick."
Meanwhile Martin was getting what afterward proved to be some valuable points—or, as the boys called it, "dope" from Reba. The man, who admitted that he was a professional outboard-motor racer, willing to sell his services to any boat or motor manufacturer or to any wealthy owner who wanted to see his entries cross the finishing line first, certainly seemed to know all the points of the game.
He instructed Martin how to sit, how to balance the boat, how to jerk his body up and down at the start in order to get the boat on the water "step," and many other things. Regarding the handling of the motor itself, Martin had little to learn. He and his chums had had much mechanical experience.
"But there are tricks in steering these racing boats," said Reba. "And there are tricks in getting a flying start when the flag goes down, and tricks in rounding the buoys which you lads need to know."
"I realize that," Martin said, "and it's mighty nice of you to teach us."
"Oh, forget it, kid! I like it!"
Reba took the boat up and down the lake and told Martin so many things that the boy wondered whether or not he could remember them all. Then they went back to the dock, and it was Terry's turn.
Much the same course was followed with him, and he came back enthusiastic in praise not only of the new boat but of the new instructor as well.
"Now we'll give this lad his lesson!" chuckled Reba as he came back to get Warren, leaving Terry and Martin to discuss what they had picked up in the brief spins up and down the lake.
That night, when they went home, having carefully put the Rulo away and housed the motor, the three were much elated over what had happened.
"We sure have a chance at those races now!" declared Martin.
"Thanks to Reba," added Terry.
"I wonder if we oughtn't to offer to pay him?" suggested Warren.
"We'll talk of that later," Martin decided.
As they were about to part to go to their several homes, they saw Jake Lawson. But the bully paid no attention to them. He slunk along on the other side of the street.
"I guess the inspector and chief read him the riot act," suggested Terry.
"Looks so," agreed Martin.
In the days that followed, Reba took each of the three boys out for more lessons in the afternoons, giving them valuable instruction and criticism. By this time the motor had been attached with a steering wheel and controls up front as it would be used in the races. And it was adjusted with a different slant at the stern, permanent wedges being fastened on and varnished, to get the maximum power from the propeller.
One afternoon as the three came down to the dock they found Reba waiting for them. He was talking with Jake Lawson who, as soon as he saw the three chums, moved away, saying nothing.
"There's another Stirling boy who says he's going to the Salina races," Reba observed as he greeted the three. "He tells me he has a fine boat."
"Do you know Jake Lawson?" asked Martin.
"Who, me? No! I just met him, and we got talking while I was waiting for you. He wanted me to give him some dope on handling his boat, but I'm too busy. I told him I was tied up with you fellows. Now who's going out first?"
"I will," said Martin.
They were soon under way, the Rulo handling to perfection, Martin thought. He was at the wheel, being coached by Reba. They swung around the point between Stirling and Wiltshire, and Martin was keeping well out, for there was a rocky ledge that was dangerous and out of sight when the lake was high, as it was now.
Gradually, in spite of his effort to steer away from these hidden rocks, Martin felt the boat being drawn toward them. He thought the connections between the steering wheel and the motor were fouled and looked back to where Reba sat. As he did so he thought he saw the man quickly remove his hand from the motor. At the same time the dark instructor shouted:
"Look out where you're going! Do you want to wreck your boat on the rocks? Keep out! Keep out!"
CHAPTER XIV Martin Is Puzzled
MARTIN HAZZARD was accustomed to acting quickly in emergencies. One confronted him now. His past adventures with his two chums, on many of which occasions they were in danger, had taught them all the need of cool-headed speed in certain circumstances.
Martin realized that even a slight contact between the frail hull of the speedboat and the sharp rocks would mean disaster. Now he quickly shifted the helm, using the control wheel at which he sat in the bow, and the Rulo veered just in time.
As she swept on past the point and out into deeper water, Martin could see, just below the surface, and so close as almost to cause him to shiver with apprehension, the sharp edges of the hidden reef.
"Well, you made it!" Reba called. "Nice work, kid! I sure thought you were in for a crack-up."
"What happened?" asked Martin. "We were going along all right until we neared the rocks, and then the boat seemed to head right for them. Why?"
"I guess the steering cables that run from your wheel back here to the propeller post must have fouled," Reba said. "I'll have a look at 'em when we get back."
"Hadn't we better go back to the dock now," suggested Martin, "and see what's wrong?"
"No, I think they're all right now," was the answer. "And you need all the instruction I can give you. You haven't any too much time before the races at Salina. Keep on. It's all right now. Anyhow, you're in deep water."
This was true, and Martin's heart, that had been thumping hard, went back to normal. He could not understand what had happened. He now tried the wheel, and the boat answered perfectly. Of course the connecting cables might have fouled.
"But why did it seem as if Reba had his hand on that part of the motor where he could, if he wanted to, change the course I was steering?" Martin reasoned with himself. "I don't want to accuse him, for he's doing us a big favor. But if he had any intentions of trying to wreck, or nearly wreck, this boat It would have been easy for him to interfere with my steering when I have to sit with my back to him. Though what object he could have in wanting to damage this boat is beyond me."
Martin was puzzled, but it was no time, now, to try to figure the puzzle out. Reba was constantly coaching him, giving good advice, as transpired later. He certainly knew the racing game. He told Martin how to sit and how to shift his center of gravity in making sharp turns around imaginary buoys.
So Martin really had no time to think of any possible sinister motive on the part of Reba in the matter of trying to wreck the Rulo on the rocks.
"Maybe I only imagined it," thought Martin. "I won't say anything to Terry or Warren about it. I'll see what happens to them. But I'll warn them to keep away from the point rocks."
He guided the fine, speedy little craft up and down the lake, off Stirling, and every few minutes Reba would give some additional advice or tell of races he had been in when certain emergencies arose, adding sage counsel as to how to avoid them should Martin encounter any such. Then the instructor said:
"I think you've been out long enough. I don't want to feed you more dope than you can digest. Suppose we go back and give one of the other kids a chance?"
"Sure," Martin agreed as he swung the boat back toward the dock. To himself he added: "I wonder what will happen to Warren or Terry."
Martin made a good approach to the float, taking care not to let the Rulo so much as scratch against the pieces of old fire hose nailed around the edges for buffers. Terry and Warren were there to assist in mooring the craft.
"How'd she go?" asked Warren. "Fine!" exclaimed Martin, with enthusiasm. "She's a pippin!"
"We saw you making speed," commented Terry.
"Yes, this boat can go," admitted Reba. "Now who's next?"
"Suppose you take it, Terry?" suggested Martin, wondering how he could get a word of warning to his chum about the rocks, not mentioning his suspicions, however, while Reba was there. But the matter solved itself, for the dark-faced instructor said:
"You boys had better get some more gas in the tank. We don't want to run out in the middle of the lake, and these outboards haven't a very big capacity. Of course you could carry some in an auxiliary tank, but I don't like it—too much risk of fire. So if you want to put in some gas I'll walk around on shore a bit and smoke a cigarette."
"All right," assented Martin. Warren offered to get the gas from young Mr. Bogg. And while he was up at the dock pump Martin said: "Terry, watch your steering if you go out around the point."
"Well, I seemed to get into a peculiar current there, and I had a sort of close call. So be careful."
Warren returned with the gas, and the tank of the motor was soon filled. Reba had spoken truly when he said the capacity of the outboard tank was limited. These little but powerful machines can take only about five gallons at the most. Some of the small, one-cylinder motors hold only two quarts, but they get considerable distance on even that amount.
"Did he give you some good dope?" asked Terry as he got ready to take his place at the wheel.
"Oh, yes," Martin said. "He knows his onions all right."
"It's lucky we met up with him," suggested Warren.
"Yes," agreed Martin, but with a mental reservation.
By this time Reba had returned from his little leg-stretching and smoking recess and was ready for another "go," as he called it.
Martin watched Terry's steering carefully. He noted that his chum kept well away from the point, and Martin was glad of it.
There were other danger spots in Lake Otter, but none of such hidden menace as the reef near the point.
"I guess Terry will be all right," reasoned Martin. “Of course there's always the danger of a floating log, but they can usually be spotted in time."
While waiting for Terry to return, Martin and Warren talked of their plans for going to Salina to the races.
"We'll need a car," Martin suggested. "We can put the boat on top of it, lash her fast, and ride her out that way."
"A sort of flivver station auto would be just the cheese," said Warren. "That's got a big top, and there'd be plenty of room in it for us and our duffel. It's only about two hundred miles. We can make that in a day."
"We're going to take two days at it," Martin said. "If we try to speed we may damage the boat. And with that on top, our car will be a bit heavy, so we can't take any chances. Stop overnight on the way is my plan."
"It's a good one. But what about an auto station model or any other kind of a car?"
"I think I know where we can pick up a pretty good second-hand one. We have a little money left, thanks to Mr. Tenchard's good work in getting us the boat at wholesale. And Mr. Taylor told me the insurance check was a little bigger than he figured. We'll get that tomorrow, and we won't have to send all of it to the boat concern," said Martin.
"That's swell! Well, things seem to be coming along in good shape. I'm anxious to get out there," Warren remarked.
"So am I. We'll be leaving soon now. Only a couple more weeks of school, and then for the great salt sea!"
"And the mystery tower!" chuckled Warren.
They talked a little longer and then saw that Terry had turned the boat and was coming back to the dock.
"And say, is he speeding!" Warren exclaimed.
"I'll say!" echoed Martin. "I hope he keeps well away from the point," he added in a low voice. Warren looked curiously at his chum.
"Why did you say that?" he asked.
CHAPTER XV It Looks Bad
MARTIN was not yet ready to make any disclosures concerning his faint suspicions against Reba. So he turned the matter aside by saying, in answer to Warren's question:
"Well, there seems to be a queer sort of current around that hidden point reef, and I spoke to Terry about keeping well out from it. I hope he hasn't forgotten."
"No, he's giving it a wide berth," Warren said. "He's all right. And see him come along! Our boat is a hummer!"
"Sure is," agreed Martin, his suspicions lulled a little as it was evident nothing disastrous was going to happen.
A little later Terry came up to the float, and the Rulo was made fast.
"How'd you make out?" Martin asked his chum.
"All right, I guess."
"He did fine!" said Max Reba. "Not that you didn't, kid," he said to Martin with a smile, "but this boy Terry seems to be a natural racing driver. He's got the true feel of the wheel and the boat. If it comes to a close finish, I'll bet on Terry."
"Thanks," murmured the recipient of these honors.
"I hope I do as well," said Warren. He was getting ready to take his place at the wheel when Reba said:
"I'm afraid you kids will have to excuse me now. I've got a date uptown, and I'm a little late. How about tomorrow about this time?" he asked. "Then I'll take you out, Warren."
"Why, I guess that'll be all right. Sure, we can't expect to take up too much of your time," Warren said. "It's mighty good of you to do what you have done."
"Oh, forget it, kid! I like it! And I'll be here tomorrow just about this time. Don't fail," he said with a laugh. "I want to coach you boys along as winners at Salina. If I can't race a boat myself, the next best thing is to have coached the winners of one."
"We'll be here," Martin promised as Reba hurried away.
Martin's suspicions were being more and more lulled to rest as he noted the man's kind and enthusiastic attitude. He really seemed to have their interests at heart. It might be all a mistake. Martin was glad he had said nothing to his chums.
The outboard motor was taken off, carefully wiped and oiled, and put away under shelter. The racing boat was tied up with care under a canvas cover, and the boys were free to attend to other matters.
It was agreed that a station type of auto would be the ideal vehicle in which to make the journey and carry the Rulo. As Martin had said, he knew of a second-hand one, and before going home the boys went to the garage where it was stored and had a look at it. The price was within their means, so they paid a deposit and took it out for a trial run before supper.
"Not so bad," was Warren's verdict.
"Not good, but, as you say, not so bad," agreed Terry.
"I think it will take us and our boat there and back," said Martin. "But if you fellows know any other car better or cheaper, go to it."
Neither Terry nor Warren did, so they closed the matter by agreeing to buy the station auto. It would serve them, after their racing trip, to make little excursions around Stirling and the shores of Lake Otter.
"We might even take it and go camping," suggested Terry.
"Sure!" his chums agreed, and Martin added:
"The Rulo isn't much of a camp boat, but if we have any luck and win a prize at Salina, we'll get a cruiser."
"Wake up! You're dreaming!" chaffed Larry.
The insurance check came through next day, and part of it was used to complete the payment on the boat while the remainder, with a little addition from each boy's savings account, paid for the flivver.
"Now we're all set!" exclaimed Warren as they went to Demerest's dock.
"There's Reba waiting to give you your lesson, Wawa," remarked Terry as they came within sight of the float.
"He keeps his word," Martin said, and he was glad of this mark of reliability. It was not pleasant to have ugly suspicions against a man who had done the chums such a real kindness.
"Well, now we'll see what kind of a racing driver you'll make," said the instructor as the boys joined him. "It's a little choppy out on the lake," he added, "but you've got to get used to all kinds of wind and water if you're going to be any good at this game."
He spoke truly, for there was quite a heavy sea on Lake Otter. The wind was freshening, too.
"But we can sort of keep inside the point and it won't be so bad," Reba suggested as the motor was brought out and fastened on.
During this work and the inspection of the oil and gas supply, Martin found occasion to say quietly to Warren:
"Mind your wheel out around the point. There are bad rocks there."
"I know," Warren answered.
He took his place in the bow, and Reba went to the motor where he would be in readiness to make any adjustments not taken care of by the forward controls and where, as he said, he would be in the best position to observe how Warren carried himself and handled the boat.
The Rulo was soon away in a swell of foam, and Terry and Martin watched their skipper chum from the float.
"I hope nothing happens," Martin said as he noticed that Warren, evidently in obedience to instructions from Reba, was keeping rather near the point.
"What do you mean—happens!" asked Terry.
"I mean to our boat. It would be a pity if she were stove in just when we're all set to go to Salina."
"It sure would! But why worry? Nothing is likely to happen."
Martin hoped not. But he anxiously watched the speeding craft guided by Warren, with the dark-faced man sitting so near the motor.
Up and down in the somewhat sheltered part of the lake, between the point and the curve of the bay on which Stirling was situated, Warren drove the Rulo faster and faster.
Once, as Martin watched, he thought he saw danger impending when the boat seemed as if about to swing out and around the point into rougher water.
"Look out!" he cried, involuntarily.
"What's the matter with you?" asked Terry. "Are you nervous or something? Warren's doing all right."
"Yes, he is now," Martin admitted as he saw the dangerous spot passed and watched the craft head in for the float. "He's all right now."
"Well, what about it?" Terry asked his chum as the landing was made.
"All right, I guess," Warren answered. But there was a curious dullness in his voice—no enthusiasm.
"Oh, he did fine!" exclaimed Reba. "He'll be all right. He had a little bit of trouble out there around the reef—same place you did, Martin. But he pulled out of it all right. He doesn't catch on quite as quickly as you did, though, Terry. I take it," he went on, "that you boys want me to give you the real goods and the low-down and not kid you along by telling you that you're good if you aren't."
"Sure!" said Terry.
"I'd be a pretty poor coach if I praised you when you did something wrong," Reba went on. "Not that Warren did anything wrong. But there's a knack in handling these boats. You'll get it. And now I've got to go. See you later."
The boys murmured their thanks as he hurried off. Then Warren turned to Martin and said:
"Did you have trouble out there by the reef? I mean did you nearly scrape it?"
"Yes, I did."
"You did?" cried Terry. "You never told us!"
"I wanted to see if it would happen to either of you," Martin went on. "Now it seems as if it has, so it can't be just a notion on my part. Tell me what happened, Warren."
"Why, I was going along all right, I thought, far enough out from the sunken reef when, all of a sudden, I felt sort of as if I were veering toward it in spite of myself. The wheel seemed stiff. Then Reba yelled for me to mind the helm, and I looked back and saw his hand on the motor, or at least he was just taking it off. I suppose he was going to shift it if I hadn't. But I did, just in time. But it was a little too close to the rocks to suit me."
"Was that what happened to you, Martin?" asked Terry, showing great surprise and wonderment.
"What does it mean?" Warren asked.
"If you want to know," said Martin decidedly, "I think it looks bad!"
CHAPTER XVI It Looks Worse
MARTIN'S chums did not quite know how to interpret his remark. He gave it with such a serious face and following such a dramatic episode, not to say dangerous one, that it seemed fraught with much meaning. "Do you mean," asked Terry, "that this Max Reba was trying to get us into trouble?"
"I believe," stated Martin, "that he hoped to get our boat into a situation where she might be damaged on the rocks and he wanted it to appear that one of us would be responsible, since we were steering."
"The rat!" snapped out Warren.
"But why?" asked Terry, more mildly. "That I don't know. This man is a stranger to us. He comes out of a clear sky, you might say, offers to coach us, and we accept."
"Without knowing a thing about him," said Warren.
"Yes," agreed Martin. "Maybe that's where we made a mistake. And after we accept his services, which, except for two happenings, seem to be just what we need, this comes up. It can't be just an accident."
"It came near being an accident with me," said Warren.
"The same with me," Martin admitted.
"If this fellow is one of those fly-by-night crooked outboard racing drivers, and I understand there are some," said Terry, "we might get Mr. Tenchard to check up on him."
"He's gone to Salina," said Martin. "We'd have to write out there, and the chances are letters would be delayed. It's only a sort of camp at best."
"Then what are we to do?" asked Warren.
"Check up on this fellow ourselves," Martin promptly answered. "Don't let him know that we suspect him, but if he takes either one of us out again, don't, even if he insists on it, get anywhere near the point with our boat. Other danger spots in the lake are easier avoided—you can see 'em. But the reef is risky."
"But won't he be suspicious if we do that?" asked Terry,
"Let him get like that!" suggested Martin. "He may give himself away. Fellows, we've got to play a game here, and the winning of it means the safety of our boat—maybe of our lives. This fellow is crooked, I believe."
"While I agree with you—so far," stated Warren, "I can't come anywhere near guessing why Reba would do such a thing."
"To keep us out of the races," said Martin.
"But what good would that do him?"
"It might do somebody else good," said Martin.
"You mean Reba might be hired by somebody to put us out of business?" asked Terry.
"It's possible," Martin answered.
"Who?" asked both his chums together.
"That's what we've got to find out." Martin stated this definitely. "It's up to us from now on."
So disturbing was the turn of events that it took all the joy of anticipation, in regard to the races, from the minds of the three boys. They could not imagine anyone plotting against them in this manner—to try to wreck their boat—to injure them. It was an ugly idea.
Yet there seemed some truth in it when Warren and Martin told all of their experiences to Terry. He could do no less than agree with them that it looked bad for Reba.
"We won't go out with him again," Martin decided. "No use taking any chances. And we'll watch to see if we can catch him. He may give himself away—reveal who is back of all this."
"But won't he get suspicious if we refuse to take any more instructions from him?" Terry wanted to know.
"He sure will," agreed Warren. "But it may force a showdown."
"I know how we can get around that," stated Martin.
"We'll say, which is the truth, that we're going to hit the trail for Salina Bay," exclaimed Martin. "What's the use waiting any longer? I think we can get off from school, on a sort of vacation, ahead of time. We've got good records—all of us. And we can tell this Reba that we'll take a chance, knowing what we do about racing after his coaching, and trust to luck to picking up more out at Salina. That will shut him out."
"I guess that's the best dope," said Warren.
"Then let's do it!" counseled Terry.
"I can't see any other way out," went on Martin, "unless we can catch this Reba in the act, so to speak. We'll just have to break with him, that's all."
"The sooner the better after what he tried to do to us," said Terry bitterly.
They talked the matter over from all angles, but that was the final conclusion arrived at, and when they left the dock, having put away the motor, and after giving Bogg careful instructions to look after the Rulo, they did not change their decision.
"We really are all set to take off for Salina tomorrow, if we had to," said Martin as they walked home together.
"Yes," agreed Warren, "we are. We have our boat, we know something about racing, thanks to Reba— whatever sort of a crook he may turn out to be—and we have the car. We could leave tonight if we had to."
"I tell you what let's do," proposed Martin. "It's school that is holding us back. Let's go see Doc Owen tonight and ask him if we can't quit at the end of this week." Dr. Owen was the high-school principal, a fine man and almost as youthful in spirit as the boys in his institution.
"That's the ideal" declared Warren.
"Good head, Martin!" complimented Terry.
They met at Martin's house that evening and went, as a supplicating delegation, to the home of Dr. Owen. He received them, smiling, listened to their story about wanting to go out to Salina to take part in the races (though they did not, of course, mention Reba), and said:
"Well, boys, I think it can be arranged. I'll have a talk with your teachers tomorrow, look up your records, and if everything is in proper order I think I'll allow this, though it is a bit unusual. But then we are living in unusual times."
"Say, he's a peach, isn't he!" exclaimed Terry as they came out.
"He's a whole ice-cream soda!" declared Warren.
"And I suggest we go have one!" proposed Martin as they saw, down the street, the brilliant lights of the "sody shoppy," as the boys called it.
But they did not go in that particular place. For as they were about to enter they saw, seated at a table far in the rear and almost out of sight, Max Reba talking earnestly to Jake Lawson.
"Fellows, do you see that?" whispered Terry as they paused in the doorway.
"It looks bad!" remarked Warren, for the same thought was uppermost in all their minds.
"It looks worse!" declared Martin.
CHAPTER XVII An Angry Man
STARTLED and angry, the three chums stood for a moment outside the refreshment place. They hardly knew what to do or say. But Martin soon burst out with:
"It's a good thing we caught this skunk in time. One more trip with him in our boat and he'd wreck it, sure!"
"Do you think that was his game?" asked Terry.
"I'm sure of it!" Warren said.
"So am I!" agreed Warren. "It's as plain as anything, now, that Jake Lawson put him on to this. Reba wasn't interested in us. He would take any kind of a job. He must have fallen in with Jake, and that pill is only interested in making trouble for us."
"Jake is probably afraid," said Terry, "that if we go to Salina and race, we may beat him."
"We'll try our best to," Martin declared with a grim tightening of his lips. "Yes, this makes it look like one of Jake's little jokes. He hoped Reba would put us out."
"Then that business of Reba pretending we were steering wrong when we got so near the rocks was deliberate," suggested Warren.
"Absolutely!" exclaimed Martin. "I thought at the time, when I saw him with his hand on the motor as I noticed something wrong with the wheel, that he was up to some dodge. But I couldn't believe he would do anything like that. Then, when Warren had the same experience, there was hardly any question in my mind."
"And now, when we see Reba and Jake hobnobbing together, that clinches it," declared Terry. "What'll we do? Shall we go in there now and bawl them both out?"
"No," Martin decided, "let's not do it so publicly. I don't like a row. We'll wait until Reba makes another offer to give us some of what he calls 'coaching,' and then we'll break with him."
"It's too bad this had to happen," said Warren. "We do need a little more instruction, and this Reba certainly knows the outboard racing game."
"Yes," Martin agreed, "it's often this way, that a smart man like Reba really goes wrong. He probably got put out of the racing game because of some crooked work, and now he has to live by his wits. But we found him out in time."
The break with Max Reba came next day. In the afternoon, as usual, the boys went to the dock. They had just finished putting the motor on the Rulo when Reba came sauntering down the inclined gangway to the float.
"Well, boys," he began, "are you all ready for some more lessons? I think I can finish you up in about one more each."
"You could probably finish us up in one more lesson—if you wanted to," said Martin slowly, and there was such a certain implication in his tone that the man looked up in surprise.
"What do you mean?" he snapped. "Not getting swelled heads, are you? Just because I said one of you had some natural ability doesn't mean that you can go in and win without being coached more."
"We don't want any more of your coaching!" snapped Terry.
"What's the matter?" A dull red was beginning to flood the dark cheeks of Max Reba.
"You know well enough what the matter is," spoke Warren. "You fouled the tiller lines and almost made Martin and me run the boat on the reef at the point."
"What's that, boy? I tried to run your boat on the rocks? You're crazy! Clean nutty!"
"Oh, no, we're not," said Martin, trying to keep calm. "You know you warned me about the rocks. I thought a current was taking me too close, but when I looked you had your hand on the motor. And the same thing happened to Warren."
"That's right," declared Warren.
"And you'd have tried it on me, I suppose," said Terry, "only you were afraid to make it three straight. But you're found out, Mr. Reba, and we're done with you. You can quit!"
"Say, look here!" stormed the angry man. "I don't know what sort of a bug has bitten you kids, but it must have made you all crazy! Why should I want to wreck your boat and throw myself out of a job? Why? Why?" he fairly shouted.
"I'll tell you why!" exclaimed Martin. "Because Jake Lawson paid you to do it. You got your job from him!"
"Now look here," shouted Reba, "that's all bunk!"
"Is it?" asked Terry quietly. "Then what were you and Jake Lawson talking about so seriously last night in Wakefield's place? We all saw you. Before this you always acted as if you didn't even know Jake."
As this came out, Reba's determined jaw sagged a bit, and his flush died away. He was caught and knew it. Then his mean spirit took another opportunity of making trouble.
"Look here, you kids!" he shouted. "I'm tired of trying to make you learn something about this racing game. I don't believe you ever will. You're too dumb!"
"What we learn from here out won't be from you, and you can be sure of that!" said Terry.
"We're through with you," added Warren.
"Oh, are you?" Reba sneered. "Well, it's generally the rule to pay off your help when you fire them. What about some money for me?"
"Money?" faltered Terry.
"What do you mean?" asked Martin.
"I mean I'm going to be paid for my services!" There was an ugly air about Reba now. "Did you think I was putting in my time with you boobs for nothing? Say, I'm no sap!"
"When you offered to coach us," said Martin, trying to keep calm, "you didn't mention pay. We thought you were offering to help us because of your liking for this game."
"Say, kid," was the coarse retort, "I can't live on love. I got to have money, and if you don't settle up I'll start a law action against you and I'll slap a sheriff's attachment on that tub of yours, and you'll never get it away from here to Salina!"
The boys were in a quandary. They knew enough of business to feel certain that Reba would at least attempt to carry out his threat. They had heard their fathers talk over business matters often enough to realize that a claim for wages, such as the one Reba was now making, could be enforced by an attachment of the debtor's property. This would tie up the Rulo so they might run a chance of missing the Salina races. What was to be done?
The angry man was now craftily smiling at the discomfited boys. He had turned the tables on them, and he probably knew they could not prove what they said against him. There were no witnesses.
"I think this is a mean trick on your part," Martin stated. "You certainly never even hinted at the start that you would charge us. If you had, we should have had to decline your help. We haven't any money to spend on coaching."
"Well, I coached you, didn't I?" he snapped.
"Yes," admitted Terry. "And you did a good job of it until this Jake Lawson bribed you to try and wreck us."
"Say, you're crazy!" yelled Reba. "Now you pay me and I'm through with you kids. You're crazy!"
"How much do you want?" asked Martin, with a hopeless look at his two chums.
"A hundred dollars!"
"A hundred dollars!" They gasped this in a chorus. It was a lot of money just then—in fact at any time— for them. But now, with the expenses of buying the new boat, with what they would have to spend on the trip to and from Salina and the cost out there—it was prohibitive.
"A hundred dollars!" murmured Martin, still hopeless.
"And right away, or I'll slap an attachment on your boat!" Reba snarled.
Suddenly Terry exclaimed:
"Come on, fellows!" He started up the gangway from the float to the dock.
"Where are you going?" asked Martin.
"I'm going to see Mr. Demerest about this. We'll lay the whole matter before him. He's the head of the Lake Otter Power Boat Association, and if he says, after he hears what this man did, that we owe him a hundred dollars, why, we'll pay—somehow. But he's going to have the whole story. Come on with me!"
"That's the way to talk!" cried Warren.
"A good idea!" declared Martin.
Suddenly a great change came over Max Reba.
CHAPTER XVIII Off to Salina
SWALLOWING several times as though he had a sticking lump in his throat, running his finger around his collar as though it pinched his neck, the racing man, with quite a different air, said:
"Hey, wait a minute!" His tone was more reasonable—much more. "What are you kids going to do?" he asked.
"Cut out that word 'kids,' will you?" snapped Warren. "I don't like it."
"That goes for me, too," added Terry. Martin nodded his agreement with his chums' opinions, and Reba said:
"Well, what's the idea?"
"Just this," said Terry, firmly. "You tried twice to wreck our boat, and you know it. No use saying you didn't," he went on, as the man stepped forward as though to make a vigorous denial. "And you plotted with Jake Lawson to keep us out of the Salina races."
"No use denying it—we saw you!" declared Warren.
"So we're going to tell the whole story to Mr. Demerest, including your demand for a hundred dollars, for something you offered to do yourself, and we'll be guided by what he says. A lot of boathouse men belong to the same association he does, and when it's known all around Lake Otter what sort of a man you are——"
"All right, boys, you win!" interrupted Reba with a sickly grin. "I'll call it off. I won't charge you anything for what I did. But you got me wrong!"
"I think we have you right!" said Martin. "But let it go at that."
"I'll never help you again," threatened Reba.
"We don't want you to," retorted Warren. "Goodbye!"
Without a word, the racer turned and walked away. But if the boys could have seen the look on his face, they might have worried somewhat. No, perhaps they wouldn't. They were now so taken up with racing matters and plans for going to Salina that they thought of little else.
"Now we've cleaned up this mess," said Martin, "let's go out for a ride."
"Sure!" agreed Terry. "And don't let's try any racing business now. We can all three crowd into the Rulo. Let's just ride for fun."
This they did, though it was rather a tight fit, and they chugged about the blue lake as the afternoon shadows lengthened. While out, they discussed and perfected their plans for leaving, since they were to be excused from school ahead of the closing of the term, and this without prejudice to their standing. They could take their examinations later* the principal said.
They planned to leave for Salina Bay and Shark River a week from the time of the Reba disclosure. In the intervening days there was much to be done.
The station auto was put into shape. It needed a few repairs, which were completed, and then the boys began to pack up. They didn't take much, for they looked upon this trip as a sort of camping expedition.
All the time they could get they spent in practising racing technique, based on what Reba had told them. They found out that his methods and instruction were basically sound, though he was a man not to be trusted in other matters.
While two of the boys, alternating, took turns at racing the Rulo, they often saw Jake Lawson and Al Barton out in the Rooster, as Jake had named his craft. But the bully and his chum did not come too close to the Rulo. They gave her a wide berth.
Once, while downtown in the evening, indulging in some sodas, Martin and his chums saw Jake in the same shop. Terry could not refrain from asking:
"What's become of your chum, Max Reba?"
"Who?" demanded Jake with a fine assumption of innocence.
"The fellow you tried to get to wreck our boat," said Warren.
"I don't know what you're talking about," mumbled Jake as he hurried out.
The outboard boys had already sent their entry to the racing officials at Salina Bay. They had tried, by mail, to engage a boarding place or even some of the very limited hotel quarters in the town of Salina, located where Shark River flowed into the great salty bay. But they had not succeeded in getting reservations. 'What'll we do?" asked Terry a few nights before they had planned to start. "We've got to eat and sleep somewhere."
"Oh, we'll get some sort of a place," suggested Warren.
"If we don't, we can camp out," said Martin. "But I'm hoping for some word, tomorrow, from Mr. Tenchard. I wrote him asking him to get us some kind of quarters."
"Oh, I guess he can if anybody can," said Terry. "We'll make out—somehow."
"We aren't fussy," added Warren.
Final preparations were made. The Rulo had been taken from the water after a last racing test, carefully varnished, and wrapped to prevent chafing and rubbing while on top of the car journeying to Shark River. The boys had decided to look for quarters there, rather than directly on the bay, which was less desirable, as no trees grew near that body of excessively salty water. The river was less impregnated and would make a better camping place, if they had to camp.
Realizing that they might have to do this, the boys arranged to pack into the station auto, in addition to their small amount of baggage, a tent and a camp outfit, including a stove that burned cubes of solidified alcohol.
They gave themselves one enjoyable lazy day on the lake, in the big old rowboat, with an outboard motor they borrowed from Mr. Demerest, since, so near to the racing date, they did not want to take chances on damaging their own little engine, which was packed for transportation.
They took Ruth and Louise on this excursion, and the girls enjoyed it as much as did the boys.
"We certainly hope you will win," Louise said as they parted.
"At least one race," added her sister.
"And I hope it's the one Jake Lawson is in," said Warren. For it was now certain that this undesirable character and his two cronies, Al Barton and Southworthy Jackson, were going to Shark River also.
A letter came from Mr. Tenchard, but it did not contain very cheering news. He wrote that there was such an influx of visitors and prospective race participants at Shark River and Salina Bay that living accommodations were at a premium.
"But come, anyhow," he wrote. "I may be able to arrange something for you at the last minute. If not, I daresay you will be able to scout around and locate something for yourselves. My Butterfly is anxious to try her wings, and I have great hopes, not only for myself but for you boys. You will have to work hard to win, though, for there are a number of celebrated drivers entered. I'll see you soon."
"I'd sleep on the soft side of a board to get a chance to take part in those races!" declared Terry.
"So would I!" affirmed Martin.
"I'd sleep in our boat with a newspaper for a blanket," offered Warren.
So they finished packing, made sure the Rulo was carefully secured on top of the car, looked over their outfits, said good-byes to their parents and the girls, and started for Salina.
"Or Shark River, more likely," suggested Martin. "That's probably where we'll stay."
"Any old place is Home Sweet Home to me," hummed Terry.
"Oh, boy, what a life there is before us!" exclaimed Warren.
In order not to speed too fast and so, perhaps, damage the boat, which was perched in rather a precarious position, the three chums decided to make the two-hundred-mile journey to Shark River in two stages.
"We'll stop wherever we happen to land when night comes," said Warren.
"If we can't find a boarding house or a cheap hotel, we'll put up the tent and camp," suggested Terry.
"Oh, we won't have any trouble finding accommodations for sleeping or eating on this end of the trail," Martin said. "It's at Shark River where the pinch will come, if it does."
"We'll manage!" was the substance of his chums' outlook on the situation.
They rode along easily, the old flivver behaving better than they had hoped for. They were passed, about noon when they stopped for lunch at a roadside stand, by a truck containing two speedboats. The driver, who halted to get gas, told the boys they were entries of a man on the south end of Lake Otter and were going to take part in the Salina races.
"Next thing we know, Jake will breeze along," suggested Terry, as they got under way again. But they saw nothing of him, though he had given out that he was going to drive to Shark River and take Al and Southworthy with him, including the Rooster, in a large car belonging to Jake's father.
When it began to get dark the travelers found themselves in rather a sparsely settled part of the country. They hoped to come to some town or city where they could get accommodations for the night and so kept on. But as darkness settled, and they saw no suitable place, they were discussing whether it would not be wise to stop at the first large private house they saw and ask to be allowed to stay there.
Then, unexpectedly, the matter was solved for them. As they made a turn in the lonely highway they saw, ahead of them, in a grove of trees, several small cabins and a big sign
"That'll do fine!" cried Martin.
"Just the cheese!" affirmed Terry.
"And cheap, too," said Warren as they rode nearer and found they could get a bed in one of the cabins, with supper and breakfast, for two dollars each.
"This will be better than breaking out our own camp stuff," said Martin.
They drove up to the combined roadside stand and house where the proprietor of the tourist camp lived, and soon made arrangements. They parked the car near their own particular cabin, which contained three cots, and were washing up for supper when another auto drove into the little enclosed space where the overnight cabins stood. A voice hailed the proprietor:
"Can you put us up?"
Oh, sure! Sure! You're just in time. You get the last cabin!"
"Well, we want a good one!" said another voice. Hearing it, Martin and his chums started.
"Max Reba!" murmured Martin.
"And that other was Jake Lawson," said Terry.
CHAPTER XIX Shadows in the Night
MARTIN hung up the towel after drying his face and hands.
"What are we going to do about it?" asked Terry, making a wry face, for he had gotten some soap in his eyes.
"What can we do about it?" Warren wanted to know. "It's a free country. Those pills have as good a right to stop here overnight as we have."
"Yes, of course," agreed Martin. "But there's no use having any run in with them. Let's try and get our suppers, come back here, and keep by ourselves. They probably won't be ready to eat, having just arrived. Come on. I don't want to have any words. I'm tired."
Terry and Warren agreed that this was wise. So they hastened their ablutions and were soon eating a plain but substantial supper, served in a rough, shed-like room back of the refreshment stand. The proprietor's wife and two grown daughters cooked and served. The boys enjoyed the food.
Just as they had finished and were leaving, Jake and Reba came barging into the room.
"What you got to eat, landlord?" Jake demanded in his usual loud voice.
"We want it hot and we want it good!" declared Reba. There was no sign of Al or the other pal of Jake's.
"You'll git th' best t' be had fer th' money you pay," said the grizzled proprietor. "We don't play no favorites here! Set down an' th' wimin folks'll serve you!"
Then Jake and Reba caught sight of the three chums.
"Oh—you're here—eh?" faltered Jake.
"Any objections?" snapped Terry.
"Don't bother with those kids!" sneered Reba.
"We were good enough for you to bother with once!" laughed Martin.
The other did not reply, and the three boys left to go back to their cabin. They got out their pajamas, and Terry unpacked a small but powerful flashlight.
"What's that for—going fishing?" asked Warren.
"No, but we might want to get up in the night, and it's no fun stumbling around in the dark."
"What'll we want to get up for?" chuckled Warren. "When I go to bed I go to sleep."
Terry went to a window and looked out. It was the window near where the car, with the outboard motor in it and the Rulo tied on top, had been parked.
"It's still there," Terry said with a sigh of relief, as he flashed his light on their property.
"What made you think it wouldn't be there?" asked Martin.
"You know who's eating in the place where we just came from," remarked Terry significantly.
"Oh, you mean Jake and Reba?"
"None others, my friend," said Terry.
"I don't believe they'd dare do anything in such a public place as this," remarked Martin, for many other tourists had taken advantage of the cabins and the meals. The little overnight park was filled to capacity.
"I'm not taking any chances," Terry went on.
"What do you mean to do?" asked Warren. "Have we got to take turns standing watch as we often have done before?"
"It wouldn't be a bad idea," Martin suggested thoughtfully.
"I don't believe we'll have to do that," Terry said.
"We're all tired, and we'll need all the sleep we can get. But I'm going to fix things so there'll be an alarm given if they try any of their dirty work."
"How?" asked his chums.
"I'm going to run a string, on pegs, all around our car. I'll peg the string about ankle high. If anyone approaches our property in the dark, they'll stumble over the string."
"That may not keep 'em away," said Martin.
"No, but I haven't finished. I'm going to connect the end of the string, which will be in a sort of continuous big loop, to the tin washbasin in here. If anybody stumbles over that string, he's going to knock this basin down and it's going to make an awful racket. If the racket doesn't scare him away, we'll wake up and can do it ourselves."
"Good idea!" complimented Martin.
"We'll help you set the trap," offered Warren.
It did not take them long, working by the gleam of the electric torch, to peg out a stout cord and lead one end into the cabin.
To this end was fastened the washbasin in such a position that any disturbance of the cord outside would make the basin fall with a clatter and bang inside. A tin soapdish was also tied to the basin, and the two would "rattle like a chorus of cowbells," Terry said, probably with truth.
The boys worked quickly and succeeded in finishing the trap before Jake and Reba concluded their meal, so the two saw nothing of it. If other campers wondered what the three were doing they did not ask. There was a clear space all around each cabin, so there was no excuse, unless it would be deliberate intention, for any unauthorized persons to approach the boys' sleeping place.
They turned in early, for they were tired and wanted to get a quick start next morning and complete the trip to Shark River. There would be much to do after they arrived.
Just what time it was, the boys didn't know, though, later, it turned out to be about two o'clock in the morning. They were all sleeping soundly when suddenly there was a most unearthly din in the little cabin.
The washbasin fell to the floor with a clatter and bang. The tin soapdish bounced on top of that with a clang and then shot off at a tangent and landed right on Terry's nose.
"Wow!" he yelled, waking up with a start.
"What is it?" sleepily demanded Martin, not quite remembering about the trap.
"Tell those burglars to go away and let me sleep!" murmured Warren.
Then Terry realized what it meant and, catching up his flashlight which he had parked under his pillow, he yelled:
"It's those rats after our boat!"
He sprang to the window and shot a beam of powerful light out into the darkness. Then he yelled:
"There they go!"
Martin and Warren were beside their chum in time to see two dark shadows fleeing. They had been close to the car and boat, but the string had tripped them and sounded the alarm.
"Who are they?" asked Martin.
"I can't see—they have their backs to me, but I can easily guess who they are," Terry said. "Come on, fellows!"
CHAPTER XX Mystery Tower
SOME little confusion followed the attempts of the boys to get their feet into shoes, for they did not want to take any chances in running over strange ground barefooted. So by the time they were outside the cabin and beside their car and boat the two men, who were the substance of the intruding shadows, had vanished into the darkness of the night.
"But we know well enough who they were," remarked Terry.
"Sure! Jake and that Reba chump," declared Warren.
"Shall we go to their cabin and say something?" asked Martin.
"What's the use?" asked Terry. "When we get there they'll probably be in bed, covered up, but with their clothes on, bluffing."
"And they'd only deny that they were here," added Warren.
"Guess you're right," admitted Martin. "But you caught 'em in time, Terry."
"Yes, our washbasin trap worked fine."
The boys made such examination as they could by the aid of their flashlights and discovered nothing wrong either with the car and its contents or the boat on top. So they went back to bed, though it took them some little time to get to sleep again.
They awoke early in the morning, but, early as it was, Jake and his outfit had left, so there was nothing they could do about that.
"And we'll be on our way as soon as we eat," declared Martin.
"Yes, I'll be glad to get out to Shark River and start trying out our boat in that extra-special salty water," said Terry.
"I hope we can find a place to stay," remarked Warren. "I was talking to the fellow who runs this tourist camp a little while ago, and he said a lot of outfits had passed through here on their way to take part in the races. I guess things will be pretty well crowded."
"Well, maybe Mr. Tenchard will have some bunks for us," spoke Terry. "After all, we won't be there more than a week, and we can rough it for that time."
The others agreed with him, and shortly after breakfast they were on the road again. They expected to make Salina about mid-afternoon, for the owner of the tourist camp told them a back road they could take which would be less cluttered with traffic than the main route. It was also a shorter way, though some stretches were a bit rough.
"But as we don't expect to speed, that will be all right," said Warren.
They were driving along through rather a lonely stretch of country, where the road was bordered by heavy timber on both sides, shortly after they had stopped for lunch, when they heard, behind them, another car coming.
In the rear-vision mirror Warren, who was driving at the time, saw a rather battered flivver following them rather speedily. Then sounded the frantic honking of a horn.
"What's the matter with that fellow?" asked Terry.
"He seems to want us to move over so he can pass," said Warren. "But he's got to wait. The road is narrow for quite a distance yet, and I'm not going to take any chances of sliding into the ditch just because he's in a hurry. I'll let him pass as soon as I can safely."
"That's right," agreed his chums.
But the man in the flivver did not seem to want to accept this evident decision on the part of those ahead of him. He continued to blow his horn and now was close enough to enable the boys to hear his shouts, though, because of the rattling of their own machine, they could not distinguish what he said.
"Say, maybe he's chasing us!" suggested Martin.
"Why would he be chasing us?" asked Warren. "He can't be a traffic cop in that outfit."
"You never can tell," said Terry. "We aren't speeding, that's one sure thing, but we may have broken some regulation in the last jerkwater town we passed through, and this fellow may be a constable."
"He sure is coming on!" said Warren. "Maybe we'd better stop and see what he's after. We don't want to be put to the bother of being arrested for even a minor violation and have to go back. It will lose us time. I think I'll stop."
This he did when he came to a somewhat wider part of the road than had been in evidence for the last mile. Pulling over as far as he dared to the side, Warren waited until the stranger in his rattling flivver had pulled up near him, and then the boy asked:
"What's the matter? Were we taking too much of the road?"
"Oh, no, not at all, son. I just wanted to catch up to you to tell you that the load on top of your car has shifted and may slide off."
"By golly!" cried Warren, all excited now.
"The boat!" exclaimed Terry.
"I thought it looked like a boat, but I wasn't sure," went on the stranger. "Anyhow, I thought I'd better tell you it was getting ready to slide off, and that wouldn't do it any good, I reckon."
"I should say not!" said Martin. "It's mighty good of you to tell us."
"Oh, that's all right. Glad to do it. But I couldn't figure out why you didn't stop when I first tooted at you. Guess you must have thought I was a speed cop after you," and the man laughed.
"Not exactly," Warren said. "I thought you were in a hurry, and I was going to let you pass when I got to a wide place. But we're much obliged to you."
"Oh, don't mention it. Well, as long as you know what's up, I guess you'll look after it."
"We sure will fasten it on good," said Terry. "We hope to win a race with that boat."
"Good luck to you!" called the man as he edged his car on past theirs and continued on his way.
The boys got out and examined the ropes by which the boat was fastened on top of their car. Suddenly Warren uttered an exclamation.
"Look here!" he cried. "One of these ropes has been partly cut through. That made it stretch, and that's why the boat shifted." For the Rulo was on the point of sliding off when they got out to examine it.
"That's right—cut!" muttered Terry as he looked at what Warren showed him.
"And it won't take three guesses to name the rats who did it!" declared Martin. "Jake and Reba must have made a slash at this rope before they ran away so quickly. They probably thought it would fray through by the jolting of the car, and the boat would slip off and be damaged. They sure must want to keep us out of the race!"
"We'll show 'em!" threatened Martin.
They unlashed some of the holding ropes, tied the one that was so nearly severed, and then made the boat securely fast again on top of the car.
Once more they were on their way, and about four o'clock that afternoon they reached Shark River and proceeded up the east shore until they were within sight of Salina Bay. It did not surprise them to see a number of the outboard-motor speedboats already there, the owners, doubtless, putting their, entries through some preliminary runs.
"Say, there's a lot of racers out here!" said Terry as they drove into the small town that enlarged into a sort of mushroom city at this season of the year.
"I hope we can find a place to stay," remarked Warren.
"Let's look up Mr. Tenchard first," suggested Martin. "I have his address. He may have been able to get us a boarding house or something."
"We may have to use the tent," said Terry. "But I'd rather have a roof over my head."
"We'll take anything for a chance to get in these races," said Warren.
They soon located Mr. Tenchard, who had managed to get for himself the last available room in the small hotel. He had just come in from testing his boat and was glad to see the boys.
"But you're out of luck about getting a regular place to put up at," he said. "I'm sorry, but I wasn't able to find anything for you. But I suppose you can put up a tent."
"We thought of that," said Terry. "But maybe before we do that we'd better scout around by ourselves."
"You can do that," said Mr. Tenchard. "You may have more luck than I did. One thing I can do for you, though, is to get you space at the dock and boathouse where I put up. You can leave your boat and engine there, and they will be safe. Perhaps you'd better do that before you go scouting around."
The boys thought this good advice and followed it. They unpacked the boat and motor and left them in charge of the man who owned the dock and boathouse where Mr. Tenchard and several other well-known amateur and professional racers kept their craft.
Thus free of the worry over getting the Rulo safely to Salina, the boys got into their car again and began "scouting around" for quarters to live in for about a week.
But the place was even more crowded than they had been led to expect, and they were turned away from several possible boarding houses. Even camping space for tents was at a premium near the shores of the bay and Shark River.
Eventually the boys found themselves near what seemed to be a large deserted windmill at the edge of Shark River and within sight of several of the salt mines which gave Salina its distinction.
"That must be the mystery tower we heard about," said Warren. "I wonder if we couldn't bunk in there. Looks as if there were room enough."
"Let's go over and size it up," suggested Terry.
This they did, and as they were walking toward the tower, having driven their car as near as they could, they saw a man coming out.
"Do you know who owns this place?" Martin asked.
"Yes. I do."
"Is it for rent—I mean for the duration of the races?"
"It's for rent all right, but I can't get anybody to take it," said the man.
"Why not?" asked Terry, and his chums waited anxiously for the owner's answer.
CHAPTER XXI Reasons Why
THE man who claimed to be the owner of the strange old tower and windmill looked rather sharply at the three boys before answering. Then, instead of giving a direct reply, he made an inquiry of them. He put it briefly:
"You fellows got good nerves?"
"Why do you ask?" Martin wanted to know.
Clearly something strange was afoot.
"Because it takes strong nerves for anyone to stay overnight in this old shack of mine. Queer things happen here. I don't want to rent it to you and then have you blame me if you get hurt."
"What sort of things happen here?" demanded Warren.
"I'll leave you to find out if you decide to stay here. If I told you why, you might think I was making too much of it. Or again you might say I didn't make it strong enough."
"Just why is it risky for anyone to stay in this tower?" asked Terry.
"I'll tell you the reason why," said the owner, who introduced himself as Simberry Harfield. "This old windmill and tower has been in our family for a great many years. Originally, when salt was discovered here, the windmill pump was used to pump out water that got into some of the mines. There are some of the old mines now," and he pointed to several old, half-destroyed shacks that had been erected over the openings of the mines. "They don't work 'em any more because they are too deep to make it profitable. But the Rock Salt Company, that owns all the mines around Salina Bay, still owns those mines."
"Does the salt concern own the tower?" asked Warren.
"No, I own it. Some of my ancestors were shareholders in the salt company, and they took over the tower when these mines near it were shut down. It's a sort of landmark around here, and I never had the notion of tearing it down. Sometimes I used to lease it to folks who used to come out here for the summer or to the races, but of late I haven't had any luck. Can't get anybody to stay in it more than a few nights at a stretch."
"But why?" asked Terry a little impatiently.
"Ghosts!" said Mr. Harfield briefly and to the point.
"Ghosts!" chorused the three boys unbelievingly: "Well, that's what some of the last tenants in here said. They heard queer noises at night, and one man said he woke up to find himself being dragged toward the door by a rope around his feet."
"Rats!" ejaculated Warren.
"There ain't no rats around here big enough to do that, my boy," said Mr. Harfield solemnly.
"I didn't mean it that way, exactly," laughed Warren. "I meant I didn't take any stock in it."
"I don't either," said Terry.
"Count me in on that," added Martin.
"If this old windmill or tower can be lived in, we'd like to rent it for about a week," said Warren. "That is, if it's got any sort of an outfit in it."
"There are four beds, some tables and a few chairs, and other furniture," said the owner. "No bed linen, of course. Most folks bring their own. But there are dishes and knives and forks and a stove."
"We have an alcohol stove," said Terry, "but we might like a wood fire in your stove on cool nights. And we brought some blankets, thinking we might have to camp out. So we're all set."
"All set for the ghosts and everything," added "Warren.
"If you don't want too much rent for the place," went on Martin.
"Well, I usually get ten dollars a week for it, seeing as how it's partly furnished and has enough room for a small family," said Mr. Harfield. "But on account of the ghosts I'll make the price to you eight dollars. How's that?"
"We'll take it!" declared Martin. "That is, if it's all right after we look inside."
"Come along and have a look," invited the owner. "I was just in to see what shape the last tenant left the place in. It's all right—no hotel, though, you understand," he warned.
"We're willing to rough it," agreed Terry. "It'll be better than our tent."
An inspection was made of the old tower, which it might more properly be called than a windmill, since, though the wind might be there, the pump did not operate, Mr. Harfield explained.
There were four rooms on the lower floor of the tower, which rose to a height of perhaps seventy-five feet. It tapered as it rose, so the top was not large, though it could be reached by means of a series of ladders inside, put there, originally, to enable the vanes of the big wind-driven fan and the crank it turned to be repaired. There were a few openings, like windows, scattered here and there in the tall, sloping sides of the tower. The lower part might be called a small flat. All the rooms were on the same ground level. There were two that could be used for bedrooms, one as a kitchen, and the fourth as a sort of "reception parlor," as Martin jokingly remarked, and he added:
"We can assemble in here and have a reception when the racing committee awards us the prize."
"Nothing like having big ideas," laughed Terry.
The dishes were nothing to boast about, nor the cutlery anything to write home about, but the boys were accustomed to rough life in camp and decided they could live very nicely in the old tower. After all, it was only for a short time.
So they agreed to rent the place, glad that they had thus settled the matter of sleeping and eating while they were at Shark River for the Salina Bay races. Mr. Harfield told them there was a store not far away where they could buy food. They had enough bedclothes, the beds were fair, and as for the ghosts—
"We'll catch 'em and eat 'em alive!" boasted Warren.
"Have mine broiled, Wawa," said Terry.
"Mine's a stew," said Martin, laughing.
"Say, you boys might be just the ones to get at the bottom of this mystery," said Mr. Harfield suddenly. "I can see you aren't going to be scared easily."
"What's the mystery—I mean besides the ghosts?" asked Terry.
"That's what I'd like to find out," answered Mr. Harfield seriously enough. "I can't figure out why ghosts should pick on me or the old tower. I never did anything. There's some game going on here I don't know about. But maybe you boys can figure it out. Anyhow, since you've agreed to take the place, here's the key."
"And here's the rent," said Martin, passing over a five-dollar bill and three ones. It was a much cheaper accommodation than the boys had expected to be obliged to take. Rates went up during racing week at Salina Bay.
"Oh, you want to pay in advance?" asked the owner, in some surprise.
"Why not?" asked Martin. "Rent is usually in advance, isn't it?"
"Well, of late, folks here haven't been doing that. When they heard about the trouble—and I always made it a point of telling them—they'd say they'd pay if they stayed. And generally they didn't stay."
"We're going to!" declared Martin.
"Yes," added Terry, "and if—"
"Hark!" suddenly cautioned Warren.
CHAPTER XXII Strange Men
THE boys and Simberry Harfield were in an inner bedroom, just finishing what Terry described as "giving the place the once-over," when they heard footsteps in the outer room of the old tower building—in the room Martin had called the "reception parlor."
That was why Warren had uttered his caution.
"I wonder who this can be," said Mr. Harfield. "We don't generally get many visitors here." He walked out, followed by the boys. In the front room were two strange men. At least they were strange to the outboard boys, and it was evident that they were also strange to the owner of the tower, for he quickly, almost angrily, asked:
"What are you doing here?"
"Excuse us, Mr. Harfield," said the tall, thin member of the little party of two. "But we understood this place was for rent, and we came to see about it."
"You seem to know me, but I don't know you," snapped Mr. Harfield.
"We don't exactly know you," put in the other man, who had a curious twitching mouth, a sort of trembling of the lips as though he could not control his emotions. "We inquired in Salina for a place to put up during the races. We're both outboard-motor drivers. We got here a bit late"—he had to stop until his mouth ceased twitching, and then he resumed: "and we couldn't find a place to stay. Somebody told us this old windmill was a sort of house, so we came to rent it. We got your name that way."
"Right, Joe," chimed in the other, hastily. "My name's Ed Hardy," he said. "This is my mechanic, Joe Blunt. We can't claim to know you, Mr. Harfield," and he essayed what was, evidently, meant for an ingratiating smile. "Wish we could. But we had your name, and if you want to rent this place for the races we're willing to take it."
"Sorry, but I've just rented my tower to these young gentlemen," said Mr. Harfield.
"Oh, then we're out of luck!" exclaimed Joe Blunt, he of the twitching mouth.
"I guess so," said the owner. "I never go back on my word."
"Neither do I," said Hardy, smiling. "We can't blame you for that. It's just our misfortune. We sort of thought we'd like to spend our time, when we aren't racing or practising on the course, in this queer old tower."
"How do you know it's queer?" asked Mr. Harfield.
"Well, it looks it, doesn't it?" countered Blunt.
"Any other reason?" It seemed that Mr. Harfield was suspicious.
"No," said Blunt. "Why should we have any other reason for thinking this place queer? Is it?"
"What have you heard about it?" asked the owner.
"Nothing!" exclaimed Blunt and Hardy together and so quickly that it almost seemed like a rehearsal. "We only just arrived in Salina this afternoon," went on Blunt. "And we want a place to stay. There's quite a crowd."
"Yes," said Mr. Harfield rather shortly. "Well, I'm sorry, but you can't stay here. I've rented it to these boys."
For the first time since they had entered the tower, the two strange men gave Martin and his chums an appraising glance. There was nothing unusual in it, and a moment later Blunt said:
"Well, then, we might as well cruise along and see if we can find some sort of a port, Ed."
"I suppose so. Well, maybe we'll see you again," he added, throwing a smile at the boys. "We'll be in some of the races, and maybe you will be, also."
"We're going to have one shot, anyhow," Terry admitted.
"Good! I hope you win!" exclaimed the twitching-mouth man. Then they turned and went out. The boys noticed that Mr. Harfield watched them, not moving until they were outside the building. Then Warren remarked:
"It's pretty tough to arrive in a strange town and have no place to eat or sleep,"
"Yes," agreed Terry. "We'd be in the same boat if you hadn't been kind enough to let us have this tower, Mr. Harfield."
"It's business with me," replied the man. "But maybe you won't be so thankful if you get hauled out of here with a rope around your feet."
"We like that sort of thing!" chuckled Martin.
"All right. You may get it. But I don't feel a bit sorry for those two men!" His voice was somewhat bitter.
"Why not?" asked Warren in some surprise.
"Because they didn't just arrive here at Salina. They've been around the bay and Shark River for the past week. I've seen 'em before, mixing in with some of the salt miners and with some of the early arrivals of the racing crowd. But I didn't let them know that. They could have had the pick of several places a week ago. Why they didn't take one, I can't say. But at the last minute they want my queer old tower. But they didn't get it!" he chuckled.
"Why do you suppose they came to rent it now?" asked Terry.
"Maybe they saw you fellows come in, guessed why, and thought maybe I wouldn't let you have it, so they could get it," suggested Mr. Harfield.
"But why would they want to do that?" inquired Martin.
"They might want to keep you boys out of here."
"I can't understand that," said Warren. "If it were Jake or Al, now, there'd be a reason. But these men are strangers to us. They'd have no object in trying to make trouble for us."
"No," agreed Terry and Martin.
"Well, I don't know," said Mr. Harfield as he gave Martin the keys to the back and front doors of the tower. "Only it looks queer to me to have two men hang around town for a week and then, all of a sudden, want the last camping place just when I've already rented it to somebody else. Of course you boys know your business, but I'd be on the watch if I were you."
"We will be," said Terry. "But there are only two chaps around here who might make trouble for us. That's Jake Lawson and Al Barton."
"Make it three," suggested Martin. "There's that Reba."
"Yes," agreed Terry. "Only Al isn't here now, so that makes it two. But I suppose he'll come along in time to mess things up for us."
"It's likely," said Warren. "I don't suppose you know where a fellow named Jake Lawson is staying around here, do you?" he asked the tower man.
"No," said Mr. Harfield, with a shake of his head. "Never heard of him. But take care of yourselves, boys. And remember—I warned you about the— ghosts!"
He didn't smile as he said this. Evidently something that had happened in the strange tower had greatly impressed him.
"We'll be careful," promised Terry, and his chums grinned with him as Mr. Harfield departed.
"Now let's get busy," suggested Warren.
"Shall we set a trap for the ghosts?" asked Martin.
"Sure! You sit up and catch 'em in the act," suggested Terry.
It did not take them long to move into the tower. They had enough provisions for a supper, but agreed to do some shopping the next day and stock up on food.
They put blankets on the beds, and by that time it was getting dark, so they lighted some kerosene lamps they found in the place. It had neither gas nor electricity, but the boys didn't have those conveniences when they went camping, so they did not greatly miss them now. They each had a flashlight for emergencies.
Before it grew completely dark, they made an inspection of the tower, going through all the rooms and even part way up into the tall part. They found plenty of dust and dirt, a litter of odds and ends, but nothing more.
This search was undertaken, Terry said, "to make sure nobody is hiding in here to sneak out in the night and fool us with some ghost business and then have the laugh on us."
"Well, we're sure we have the place to ourselves, anyhow," Martin said as they descended to the living quarters.
After a brief but satisfying supper—they made tea on their own alcohol stove—Warren suggested:
"What say we take a ride over to Star's boathouse and see if our racer is all right?" Tom Star was the owner of the boathouse and dock which Mr. Tenchard had recommended to the boys.
"No, we'd better not go," decided Martin.
"Why?" asked his two chums.
Martin hesitated before answering.
CHAPTER XXIII Something Happens
TERRY and Warren glanced at the dark curly-haired lad. His deep-set eyes seemed gazing at nothing in particular, but his chums knew he was thinking intently.
"For this reason," Martin said, after rather a lengthy pause. "There may be nothing in what Mr. Harfield told us about this place, and there may be something. Of course it isn't ghosts, but it's some trickery. Now if we leave here it will give those who are putting on the tricks a chance to get in and set the stage. There is no particular need of going to look after our boat and engine. Both will be safe, Mr. Tenchard told us. So I vote we stay here to make sure nobody slips anything over on us. I didn't just like the looks of Messrs. Hardy and Blunt."
"You mean those two men who wanted to rent this place?" asked Terry.
"Those are the birds. They may be all right, but don't let's take any chances."
"All right," assented Warren. "But are we going to have to hang around here every night? Can't we get away at all?"
"Oh, sure!" decided Martin. "It's just this first night I think we should be careful. Why, maybe Jake and that Max Reba might smell us out and come around to make trouble, though I don't believe they can guess we are here. Though someone might tell them."
"I hope they have to sleep on the hard side of a board!" murmured Terry.
"There's another thing, though," went on Warren. "Mr. Tenchard doesn't know we have taken lodgings in the old tower. He won't know where to find us if he should have to."
"I don't see why he'd want us before morning," Martin answered. "And in the morning we'll look him up and give him our address. Just take it easy for tonight."
"I sure hope we sleep without any ghosts dragging us around," yawned Terry.
"Same here!" echoed Warren.
They made a tour outside of the place, which was set off by itself, the nearest buildings being some old ramshackle ones that were formerly used in the salt-mining operations. Nothing suspicious was to be seen. The boys were sure they were alone in the tower, and, after locking both the back and front doors securely, they placed their flashlights where they could get hold of them quickly and went to bed.
Somewhat to their disappointment, the night was one of the most peaceful they had ever passed. Aside from some creakings and rattlings, sometimes akin to groanings, there were no noises. And the creakings and rattlings came, they soon discovered, from what was left of the old wind wheel at the top of the tower.
"Well, what's the order of the day?" asked Terry when they arose early and assembled for breakfast.
"We'll give our boat a tryout on Salina Bay," decided Martin.
"And see if that extra-heavy salt water adds anything to the speed of the Rulo," suggested Warren.
"What's the theory of that business, anyhow?" asked Terry. "I mean what's the point of so many outboard racers coming away out here to speed?"
"I think," said Martin, "that the greater density of the salt water here, which forms a much more saturated solution than in the ocean, sort of gives the propeller something more substantial to push against. In other words this Salina Bay water is thicker than the water of Lake Otter."
"I get the idea," said Terry. "You know pilots of airplanes have noticed that if they go very high—I mean five or six miles up—the air is so thin their propeller doesn't get a good hold and they can't gain any speed."
"That must be the same idea here," agreed Martin, "only we are dealing with water instead of air."
"Quite a little scientific discussion," chuckled Warren. "Well, let's go get our ship in shape to see what she'll do."
"How about leaving our things here after the warning Mr. Harfield gave us?" asked Terry.
"He didn't say the ghosts were thieves," laughed Martin. "We'll take our money and such valuables as we have with us. The rest of the stuff here wouldn't tempt a burglar, and we'll have our car with us. So what's the use of worrying?"
His chums also took that view and, having locked the tower doors, they started for Star's boathouse.
At Salina Bay, in the little town of the same name, and all along Shark River there were scenes of activity that first morning of the boys' visit. At the boathouse where they had left their craft many drivers were getting out their boats for trial spins. The same was true of such other docks as they could see. And out on the salty waters of the bay itself a number of craft were having impromptu races.
The starting point of the races was not far from Star's dock, and the boys saw a number of the judges and other officials looking things over and getting matters in readiness for the first event, which would occur two days hence.
"I don't see anything of Jake," remarked Terry, as he and his chums walked along the dock to get out the Rulo and attach the outboard motor.
"And I don't want to!" exclaimed Martin.
"Good-morning, boys," greeted a voice, and they turned to see Mr. Tenchard smiling at them. "Did you get fixed up?" he asked them as they returned his salutation.
"In the ghost tower!" laughed Warren, and they told him about it.
"Well, you seem to have laid the ghost," said the racing man. "And I suppose you're now ready to try this famous water."
"Yes," said Martin. "Is it really much saltier than the ocean?"
"About ten or fifteen per cent, I think," was the answer. Or it may be more. I never was very good at figures. It isn't as saturated with salt as the lake in Utah, though. There I believe you can get one solid pail of salt out of four pails of the water."
"Why don't they have outboard races there?" asked Terry.
"They may, for all I know. And if they don't I suppose the answer is that the water is too heavy. It must be like molasses, and I guess you couldn't race an out-boarder in molasses."
"You'd have a sweet time doing it!" said Martin, with a straight face. Then he had to dodge the fists of his chums, who resented this attempt at a joke so early in the morning.
They found their boat and motor and, putting the two together, were soon ready for a trial run. Mr. Tenchard had taken out his Butterfly and was sending her around what, so Tom Star told the boys, would be the official course when the stake boats or buoys had been anchored in place.
Deciding that they wanted to get the hang of matters and an impression of the bay before starting to make any speed trials, the three got aboard the Rulo and started away from the dock.
They were at once made aware that there was something different about Salina Bay. The water did not look nor did it feel to the touch of the hand any different than other salt water where the boys had motored or in which they had gone swimming.
"But the propeller does seem to take hold better," decided Martin as they drove along, making no attempt at speed.
"Then we ought to do pretty well in a race," suggested Warren. "For when we let her out back at Lake Otter we sure burned up the water."
"We'll give her a test here as soon as we get a little more familiar with the place," agreed Terry.
They took turns at the wheel and rode about the big bay. Once or twice they saw Mr. Tenchard, who now seemed to be trying for a record as he fairly flew past them.
"I hope he wins in his class," said Warren.
"Sure!" echoed his chums.
With three in their boat it was a bit crowded, and they could not attempt anything like fast work. But they decided they would do this in the afternoon, two boys alternating at the motor and the wheel.
After about two hours of riding around Salina Bay, at one time passing close to where, on shore, they could see some of the salt workers busy around the refining vats, they started back for Star's dock. They were moving along slowly when they heard, coming up behind them, a boat the outboard motor of which was speeding.
Looking around, they saw it was the Rooster. In it were Jake Lawson and Al Barton.
"So Al got out here after all," remarked Terry.
"And with Reba, Jake has the makings of his usual gang," commented Warren.
As the Rooster passed the Rulo, Jake shut down his motor long enough to shout across the water:
"Hey, you rubes don't know anything about racing here! You can't have three in that class boat!"
"Don't answer him," suggested Martin.
His chums didn't, and the Rooster soon speeded arrogantly away.
"Will he be in the same race we are, I wonder?" asked Terry.
"He can be if he enters," Martin replied. "His boat's in the same class with ours."
"Worse luck!" murmured Warren. "We've just got to beat him!"
They went back to the dock, where they found Mr. Tenchard, who had just moored his Butterfly. He asked them about their motor, made some valuable suggestions to them, and also told them some adjustments to make to their outfit to get the best results.
"Have you reported to the racing officials yet?" he asked.
"Not since we made our entry by mail and got our official sanction card," Martin answered.
"Well, I'd call on them and report," suggested the racing man. "It's best to attend to those matters early. There's always a last-minute rush."
The boys took this advice and saw to it that their names were correctly entered on the books. Then they went back to the tower for lunch and found the place undisturbed. After a brief siesta, they returned to the bay and spent the afternoon in doing some speed work.
Terry and Martin took the Rulo out first and found that with the changes made, as suggested by Mr. Tenchard, they could get more speed out of their craft. Then Martin and Warren had several trials around what, later, would be the triangular racing course. And at the close of the afternoon Terry and Warren went out together. In this way each boy got a chance either to steer or attend the motor with each of his chums.
They got their supper in the tower and then decided they could take a little time off, which they did, visiting a moving-picture show in the town of Salina.
They returned to their quarters about ten o'clock and, having made a casual inspection of the place, finding nothing, got ready for bed.
"I guess somebody must have been stringing Mr. Harfield," yawned Terry as he began undressing.
"Possibly," admitted Martin.
"And we were lucky to get this place," said Warren. "I was talking with one racing driver who got here today. He's sleeping on the beach in an old packing box. Couldn't get in any other place, and he thinks he's lucky to have that box."
"Yes, I guess we're pretty well fixed up," said Terry.
The boys did not get to sleep early. The day had been rather an exciting one. Trying their racing skill for the first time rather nerved them up, and they lay on the cots for some time, talking and planning.
At last, however, Warren's deep and regular breathing announced to his chums that he was on the verge of slumbering. Then, before they knew it, Terry and Martin dropped off.
What time it happened and just how, they were too worked up to estimate, later, but, suddenly, Warren was awakened by feeling a hand on his face. At first he thought it was either Martin or Terry awakening him for morning. He aroused himself with a start and saw that it was dark night.
"Who's there!" he called, his heart beating fast.
He felt someone moving near his cot.
"Terry! Martin!" he shouted. He reached under his pillow for the flashlight but got the wrong end toward him and could not find the switch for a moment. When he had it on and the beam lighted the room, he saw no one but his chums, sitting up on their cots and looking at him wonderingly, for his shouts had awakened them.
Then Warren saw something else.
On the foot of his cot was a noosed rope.
CHAPTER XXIV Speeding Up
WHAT seemed to be a period of several seconds followed this dramatic discovery before either of the boys said or did anything. So suddenly had they been awakened that sleep was still heavy upon them.
"What happened?" asked Martin.
"I heard you yell," stated Terry.
"Well, you'd have yelled, too, if you felt a hand on your face in the night," declared Warren.
"Hand!" exclaimed Terry. "More likely a rat's tail."
"Oh, rats, eh?" said Warren. "Do rats bring in such things as that and leave 'em on a bed?" He pointed to the noosed rope.
"By golly!" cried Martin. "That is something! We've got to look into this!"
He sprang from his cot, flashlight in hand, and walked over to Warren's side. Picking up the rope, which was a long one, he asked:
"Did he get it around your feet?"
"The ghost—the fellow who was feeling your face —whoever was in here?"
"He didn't get it around my feet," Warren answered. "They were under the blanket. Maybe luckily for me. I didn't feel anyone touch my feet. All I felt was a hand on my face. At first I thought it was one of you fellows waking me up because it was morning. But I soon found out different."
"This isn't so good," remarked Terry, and his voice was serious. "What are we going to do about it?"
"Have a look around right away, for one thing!" decided Martin. "If Jake and his gang, or those two fellows—Blunt and Hardy—are playing jokes on us we want to know it."
"I don't call that a joke," said Warren, pointing to the noosed rope on his cot.
"Far from it," agreed Martin, examining it. It was an old rope, about half an inch in diameter and perhaps twenty feet long. The noose, a regular lasso knot, was on the cot. The remainder of the rope was coiled up on the floor at the foot.
"It looks," observed Terry, "as though they came in with that rope, Warren, and felt around to find your feet. Once they got the noose around your ankles they'd have pulled on it."
"The same as Mr. Harfield says was done to others who slept here," commented Martin. "But what's the game?"
His chums shook their heads, unable to answer.
"Let's have a look around," proposed Terry.
This they did, going through all the rooms with their flashlights agleam and even climbing part way up into the tower itself. They found nothing.
Both doors were locked. Several windows were open, but they were covered with cloth mosquito netting, for the pests were abundant in the salt marshes around Salina Bay. But none of the screens had been torn or cut.
"Then how did they get in here?" asked Warren, when the usual entrances had been checked and, apparently, found not to have been used.
"There's a little more to this joke than we thought at first," Martin said as they went back to bed, puzzled and not a little worried.
"Do you call it a joke?" asked Warren. "If you do I'll sneak over to your cot after you're asleep and put a cold hand on your face."
"Don't unless you want a punch in the nose," warned Martin.
"All right, I won't. But don't call it a joke!"
"It's a puzzle," declared Terry. "And we'll have to fit the pieces together. Beginning with this," and he picked up the rope.
"You can't make much out of that," said Martin. "It's the sort of rope used for mooring small boats, and every dock around Salina Bay has fathoms of it, new or used. But we'll keep it just the same. The ghosts may come back for it."
"We'll be ready for them when they do," stated Warren, grimly.
Sleep did not easily return to the boys. They hardly expected that it would. They stretched out on their cots, leaving a kerosene lamp turned low, and talked. But at last they grew drowsy again.
"But I say let's leave the lamp burning, turned down," suggested Warren, whose nerves seemed to be a bit on edge.
"Not a bad idea," agreed Martin.
Morning came, no further alarms or disturbances being recorded, and the boys slept later than usual because of having lost some sleep in the night. But morning brought no solution of the mystery. They went over the old place carefully but could not discover how the intruder or intruders had entered. For they admitted there may have been more than one.
Nothing of their property had been taken, nor was their car touched, as far as they could discover. They looked for signs outside the old tower windmill, but the ground was of a sandy nature and, aside from locating some of their own footprints in various places, they could gather no clues in that way.
"We'll try a little different plan when we go to sleep tonight," decided Martin as they finished breakfast and made ready to take the boat out for a trial.
"What?" asked Warren.
"Something like the washbasin trap at the tourist camp," Martin answered.
"Maybe we can catch 'em that way," agreed Terry.
Many other racing drivers were at Star's dock early that morning, and soon Salina Bay was echoing to the spluttering exhausts of scores of outboard motors. The boys were greatly interested. Some of the racing boats looked to be no larger than good-sized bugs. There was just room enough for one man in them, and when they speeded up they skimmed along on a wave half out of the water.
"This salty bay sure makes for speed," declared Warren as they got the Rulo out and away from the dock.
"How about speeding up a bit ourselves?" asked Martin, for he and Warren were to go out together on the first trial that morning.
"Then we'll do it!"
After a few preliminary dashes up and down near the dock, while Terry watched from the float, Martin, who was steering, called:
"Get ready now! We're going to speed!"
And speed the Rulo did. She seemed fairly to leap out of the water, and, coming up to one or two other boats, not exactly in her class, passed them. The drivers of these, thinking it was a challenge for an impromptu heat, opened their throttles, but they could not catch the Rulo.
"By golly, we're going!" yelled Warren.
"We still have some reserve," his chum shouted back to him.
CHAPTER XXV Noosed
VERY much pleased with the performance of their racing boat, the three boys, having taken turns in relays all through the morning, returned to their tower boarding place at noon to eat a lunch.
They might have eaten at a wagon restaurant near Star's boat dock, as many of the racing drivers did when the noon period arrived. But Martin learned that Jake Lawson, Reba, and Al Barton were likely to drop in there for something to eat, and advised against it.
"We would only get into an argument with them," Martin said, "and we have trouble enough without that kind of a fuss."
"Troubles with the ghosts," chuckled Terry.
"They're Warren's ghosts so far," Martin went on. "They haven't bothered us. I guess they like Warren because he's so fat. He would make good eating."
"Don't you call me fat!" threatened Warren. "I'm losing at the rate of a pound a day. Do you know this racing game is nervous work?"
"So some of the other fellows tell me," admitted Martin. "But we haven't done any racing yet."
"Except that little brush we had this morning," Warren said. "And we walked away from them."
"You can't judge anything that way," declared Terry. "Those boats were in a class below you. I mean they had less powerful motors."
"Well, anyhow, we're doing fine," said Warren, and his chums agreed with him.
They found nothing disturbed when they returned to the tower, and they spent a lazy hour after lunch, lolling around. For, as Warren had remarked, it was nerve-straining work driving a little boat with a very powerful engine around Salina Bay. Always there was the necessity of being on the watch lest some other boat crash into you or you into some other boat. And they all went fast, regardless of class. Around fifty miles an hour is fast for a boat. It may not be considered fast for an automobile and surely isn't for an airplane. Or, for the matter of that, it isn't fast for racing boats with inboard motors. But a racing driver needs grit to drive one of the little craft at forty-five miles an hour, leaning forward with all but his legs out of the cockpit, and the nose of his craft pointing to the sky, while behind him, perhaps ahead of him, and on both sides of him are other small, roaring demons of speed.
Of course the three boys weren't in this class yet, but they were aiming in that direction.
They went back to the bay in the afternoon and spent some time rushing about, in relays. Other drivers were doing the same. They saw nothing of Jake and his two cronies, nor did they have any glimpse of the man with the twitching mouth or his companion.
"Do you know what I think we ought to do, fellows?" remarked Terry as they decided to call it a day and brought the boat back to Star's dock about three o'clock.
"What?" asked Martin.
"I'll bite," murmured Warren
"I think we ought to go and take a look at some of this salt-mining business," suggested Terry. "It ought to be interesting, and it might take our minds off this strenuous racing game for a little while."
"And off the ghosts," added Martin, with a laugh. "Well, let's go."
They learned from Tom Star that visitors to certain of the salt mines, operated by the Rock Salt Company, were always welcome and permitted to descend into some of the workings by means of the elevator cages used by the miners.
Getting the name of the manager of the nearest large mine, and being told they could mention Mr. Star's name as an introduction, the three boys rode over after having put away their boat and motor.
They were cordially received and were glad of the chance to go down—no very great distance, however —into the earth. It was like the usual mine, a straight shaft leading down, and off that, at different levels, radiated tunnels or branch shafts. The digging out of the hard rock salt left holes, or caves, which, like those in coal mines, needed to have the roofs supported by timbers.
This salt mine was lighted by incandescent bulbs placed at intervals through the tunnels and shafts, and the effect was striking, for some of the salt was in crystal form and sparkled like diamonds.
The boys saw how the miners dug out the blocks of salt and loaded them into little cars running on miniature railways, and watched how the cars, drawn by little electric locomotives, took the trains to the foot of the shaft, whence the salt was hoisted to sunlight above.
They went through the "factory," if such it could be called, where the rock salt was cleansed of its impurities and made into the table article of commerce. There were various by-products, one of them being something like bicarbonate of soda, that were made from salt in its various stages.
"This may interest you," said the guide who was showing the boys about. He took them into a sort of office and exhibited some sparkling crystals.
"Diamonds?" asked Martin.
"Oh, no, nothing as valuable as that. But in some of the mines we have found these somewhat new crystals. They are not exactly salt, nor are they true crystals. But some firms have found a way of making them into semiprecious stones for jewelry, and they bring in quite a sum of money to the company—that is, when we can get them away from the men."
"Get them away?" asked Terry.
"Yes. Of course all the salt and other things the men take out of the mines belong to the company. Salt has never been stolen, as it is too common. But of late there have been a number of thefts of these salt crystals. The company is losing quite a bit of money."
"Who steals the crystals?" asked Martin.
"That's what we'd like to find out. The men who work in the mines where the crystals are found must submit to a sort of search. But even this has failed to stop the thefts. There must be some secret way in which the men get the crystals out to confederates who dispose of them. We are having some special detectives sent down here, and we hope to put a stop to the practice."
"It's almost like the Kimberley diamond mines," remarked Warren.
"Except that these salt crystals aren't nearly so valuable," the manager said. "But they are worth enough to cause the company worry over their loss."
The boys were shown some mines, or, rather, wells, where the salt lay so deep beneath the surface that it could not profitably be dug out. In this case water was pumped into the big hole in the ground and allowed to remain there for some time. The water dissolved the salt, and a heavy saturated solution was formed. This was pumped out, put in shallow vats to stand, and when the water evaporated the dry salt remained to be refined. Sometimes, to hasten evaporation, the water was boiled. This left in the huge caldrons a deposit of what looked like chunks of brown sugar with crystals, like rock candy, on top. But these brown crystals could not be compared in value to the white ones.
After an interesting afternoon, and planning for some hard racing practice next day, the boys returned to the tower. They had had no visitors as far as they could determine, and after the usual supper, inspection, and locking up, they went to bed. They were too tired to set any traps to catch the "ghosts."
It was Martin who received the questionable benefit of the manifestations in the middle of that night. He was suddenly awakened by feeling a pull at his feet.
With a yell, he switched on his flashlight and had a glimpse of a long rope around his ankles. The rope appeared to rise up to the ceiling and was pulled taut. Martin was on the point of being hauled up in the noose of the rope when he flashed his light. When his eyes could take in objects, all he saw was a coil of rope on the floor at the foot of his cot.
But his feet were still within the noose.
CHAPTER XXVI The Trap
MARTIN'S yells, naturally, awakened Terry and Warren. They sat up on their, cots, flashed on their lights, and saw just what their chum saw—the coil of rope and the noose about Martin's feet.
"This has got to stop!" declared Martin as he kicked the noose off.
"How did they manage to get that rope around your feet without your knowing it?" asked Terry. "I mean how could they proceed as far as that without waking you up? I should think you would have felt them pulling off the blankets to get at your feet."
"I slept with my feet extended outside the lower end of the blankets," Martin explained as he arose from his cot. "I sometimes do that. My feet stuck out and, naturally, they just lassoed 'em."
"By golly, this is queer!" exclaimed Warren.
"It's more than queer—it's annoying and may be dangerous," Martin said. "They might have put that noose around my neck!"
"Come on!" cried Terry, putting his feet into his slippers.
"Where?" asked Warren.
"To find these so-called ghosts. They're not ghosts! They're real persons—maybe Jake or somebody like him—and they must be in this tower now. They mean business."
"And a mean sort of business, if you ask me," declared Martin as he and Warren got ready to accompany Terry on an investigation tour. "They may injure some of us with this rope."
"I think they want to get us out of here and this is their way of trying to scare us, the same as they scared others out before us," said Terry.
"But what's the object?" Warren wanted to know.
"I'll tell you later—when I find out," Terry answered.
They made a hurried search of the rooms, but found no one in them, and, as before, both doors were locked and the screens over the windows undisturbed.
"Let's try up above," suggested Martin. "They may be hiding up there. I think they must be, for the rope seemed to come down from the ceiling."
"Then there ought to be a hole," suggested Terry. But they could not find one, nor was there any trace of intruders in the upper regions of the old tower and windmill.
Disappointed at not catching those who were making the trouble, and baffled at not being able to solve the mystery, the boys returned to their bedroom, lighted a lamp, got some milk and molasses cookies for a midnight lunch, and talked it over.
"The whole thing simmers down to this," said Martin. "Some person or persons have an object in getting us out of here, and there is a secret entrance to this tower by means of which they can get in nights and tease us with ropes."
"That's the problem we have to solve," agreed Terry.
"But who is responsible for the tricks?" asked Warren. "I don't believe, in this case, it's Jake Lawson and his crowd. They may try to trick us out of a race, but I don't believe they'd know enough to work a game like this."
"I agree with you there," said Martin. "I'm more inclined to suspect Hardy and Blunt. We must make some inquiries about them around the bay tomorrow."
"And meanwhile are we going to let them keep on trying to rope us?" inquired Warren.
“No!" snapped Martin. "We'll set a trap and catch 'em. Let's get some sleep now, if we can. I don't believe they'll come back tonight. Tomorrow we've got to do some serious practising for the race. We'll need our rest."
He hid the rope beneath his cot. It was the same sort of rope that had been used before. No clue in it as far as the boys could see.
The midnight lunch and their natural weariness soon sent the boys to sleep again, and there was no further disturbance. The morning promised a fine day, and after breakfast and an inspection of the premises, during which they looked for but failed to find any secret entrance, they went over to Salina Bay.
Affairs there were busier than ever, for the first race was scheduled for the afternoon. It was for a class of boats in which neither the boys, Jake, nor Mr. Tenchard were entered, so aside from planning to watch it, gain what experience they could from it, and enjoy the excitement there would be, Martin and his chums had no great interest in the contest.
While Warren and Terry made ready to take the Rulo out for a trial run, Martin spent some time making inquiries of Mr. Tenchard, Tom Star, the boatman, and others concerning the man with the twitching mouth and his companion. Martin found that the two men were known by sight to many in Salina Bay but could find out nothing definite about them. They were not racing men and did not work in any of the salt mines.
"It beats me how they do make a living," said Mr. Star.
Martin also inquired about Simberry Harfield, the owner of the tower. He was well thought of and had a good reputation around Salina. No one believed he had anything to do with the manifestations. Concerning them, there were two opinions. Some believed it was the prank of boys, and others that the whole affair was due to the vivid imaginations of those who occupied the tower.
"You can't imagine ropes, though," Martin decided for himself.
So he had very little to tell his chums when they came back from their practice run. They reported that the Rulo was running to perfection.
"Had a little brush with Jake and Reba while we were out," said Warren. "Just about a quarter of a mile."
"And we beat him!" chuckled Terry. "You should have seen Reba's face. Was it red!"
"Well, I hope we beat 'em in a real race," Martin remarked.
Then he went out with Warren and later with Terry. On this last trial a little motor trouble developed, so they did not stay out long, coming back to the dock where, fortunately, Mr. Tenchard was able to set matters right for them.
The afternoon the boys spent in watching the races for large-sized outboard boats. The course was the triangular one of a mile to each lap, the same as the boys, later, would go over. The three heats of the contest proved exciting, and it required three heats to decide the matter. The boys did not know the winner, nor those who came in second and third, but they enjoyed the excitement of the contest.
"And now for the trap!" said Martin as they started back to the tower, having visited the official headquarters to make sure that their entry was in proper order for the race they were in, which was to take place two days hence, a slight change in the date having been made to accommodate late arrivals. "We can give our minds to it, now that everything else is coming along nicely."
"What's your idea of a trap?" asked Terry. "Going to get a watchdog?"
"That wouldn't be a bad idea," agreed Warren.
“I’ll try that if the trap I have in mind fails," Martin said. "Now here's my idea, fellows. I'll tell you before we get back to the tower, for there may be spies there who might hear it."
So as they rode along in the flivver Martin told his plan.
"We'll put dummies in our beds," he began. "Make up bundles with some of our clothes, a pillow, and any other way we can, so it will look as if all three of us were peacefully sleeping."
"Where will we be?" asked Terry.
"Hiding somewhere, either outside or up in the tower above our bedroom. Maybe it would be a good idea to have one of us outside and two in, watching with flashlights."
"What's the idea of all this?" Warren wanted to know.
"I believe," said Martin, "that our intruders are able to get into the tower secretly. They get views of us through some peephole and know when we are asleep. Then they try to lasso us to scare us so we'll move out. Thus far the scare hasn't worked, so I'm sure they'll try it again. Now if we put dummies in our beds while we are on the watch, we can catch these pretended ghosts in the act. What do you think of that?"
"I'm for it!" declared Warren.
"It's a good idea," said Terry.
"Then we'll set the trap," decided Martin.
CHAPTER XXVII Discovered
WITH a view to lulling suspicions of any of the plotters who might be lurking about the tower and possibly observing them, the boys went about everything as usual on their return from Salina Bay. They got their suppers, sat about, talked and read a little, and then prepared for bed.
But instead of three boys on the cots when night came, there were three cleverly constructed dummies which, even in the glare of a flashlight (as they proved by a test), looked sufficiently real. It was the opinion of Martin that those doing the rope trick took a look into the bedroom and surreptitiously flashed a beam of light in to make sure the victims were present before the trick was played.
"When they try it now they'll get a surprise," declared Terry.
Having made the dummies, the boys quietly left the bedroom and held a conference in the kitchen. Each one had a flashlight.
Terry was assigned to do outside guard duty and took his place in a clump of bushes where he could have a view of the tower. But, as he pointed out when he was slipping out through the kitchen window, he would not be able to watch the back of the strange building.
"Then we'll have to make a change," decided Martin. "Warren can guard the back of the tower, outside, and you the front, Terry. I'll take the inside. Whoever first sees anything suspicious must give a hail, and the others will run to help him."
"Do you think we ought to have a gun?" asked Terry.
"No, I think we won't need that," Martin said. "Anyhow, we haven't one. But we can each take a club."
They provided themselves with stout sticks, really good weapons in case of a fight. After Terry had gone out through the window, having to tear the mosquito netting in doing so, there was a period of waiting to see if there was any move outside from any possible enemies in hiding. As nothing developed, Warren went out the same window and took up his observation post at the rear of the tower.
Martin waited a few minutes, listened intently for any sounds that might come from within, and then, shielding his torch with one hand so that only a sliver of light showed, enough to guide his steps up the stairs leading high within the tower, he went up in slippered feet, making no noise. He found himself in a big, dusty open space that covered all the rooms below. The four sides of the tower sloped inward, so that there was a gradually narrowing high space over Martin's head. At the very top of this space was a heavy platform which held the windmill apparatus. The pump proper, of course, was down below, or rather it had been there. Now there was no pump.
Terry found a stone to sit on so that he could peer through a screen of bushes and watch the tower from his point of vantage.
Warren, at the rear, did the same thing, and then the two outside guards settled down to a period of anxious and tiresome waiting. The hour was approaching midnight. There was a little wind, and the stars were bright enough to enable Warren and Terry to see anything like the form of a man approaching the tower.
It was this same little wind that made matters for Martin, hidden up in the tower, a little eerie and unpleasant. For the wind creaked the old wheel on top, rattling the metal vanes and shaking the crankshaft and bearings. Up in his hiding place, which might be likened to a great, high, narrow attic, the sounds were much louder in Martin's ears than they would have been in the rooms below.
"If this jigger keeps on rattling I won't be able to tell whether it's that I hear or someone trying to get in," Martin reflected.
However, he could do nothing about it. He found an old box to sit on, and so, with his flashlight in one hand and the club in the other, began his vigil.
Gradually the wind died down and the old mill and tower became quiet. Martin was under a nervous tension. First his nose would itch and then both his ears. Next it was his left cheek. Again the tingling would jump back to his nose and then to his other cheek. But after a while he began to relax, and he suddenly became aware that he was drowsing off.
“This won't do!" he reflected.
And he had no sooner made this reflection than he was aware of a noise in front of him. At first he thought it was the wind, but in a moment he knew it was not. That sound would have come from higher up—near the location of the old wheel. Besides, this was a different sound. It was not a sound of metal. It was the sound of wood scraping over wood.
Martin's heart began to pound violently, and his breath seemed to choke him. He braced himself on the box and grasped his flashlight for instant use, his fingers tightening on the club. The scraping sounds continued.
"It's like a door opening, or maybe a panel sliding back,” Martin told himself. "I don't believe it's rats —the sound is too heavy. Someone must be coming in here through some entrance we don't know anything about. And they didn't approach the tower from front or back, or Terry or Warren would have given the alarm."
He pictured to himself the location of the tower. To the northwest of it were the remains of two old salt mines with their ruined buildings. The sound came from that direction.
Suddenly, through the darkness, came the whisper of a voice. It startled Martin so that he nearly fell off his box scat.
"Are they in bed?" the whispering voice asked.
"Yes, I just flashed a light on 'em and they're all three there!"
"So you think!" mused Martin. "Our dummies did the trick. But how did you flash a light into the room below without me seeing it here?" That he could not answer. But he was now aware that there were two whispering men in the same place with him. He could not, of course, recognize their voices.
Martin tensed himself for quick action. He could hear the men walking softly, and though it was very black and dark up where he was, he thought he could see two shadowy forms moving about until they were over the bedroom below. Then came another sound of wood sliding over wood.
"There must be a sort of trapdoor that opens into the bedroom," thought Martin. "That's how they lowered the rope. But it must be well made, for we couldn't see it by looking at the ceiling."
One of the men whispered again:
"Is it open?"
"Yes," was the reply.
"Got the rope ready?"
"Then noose whichever one you can and pull hard this time."
"Sure! But flash me a gleam so I can see what I'm doing!"
Suddenly Martin decided to act. He pointed his own electric torch in the direction of the two shadowy forms, pressed the switch, and cried:
"Here's a gleam for you!"
The tower darkness was quickly dispelled by the bright gleam, and in its focus was revealed two surprised and startled men standing over a hole in the floor, a small, round hole, as Martin quickly noted. One man held a long rope; the other a flashlight which he had not had time to switch on.
And in the gleam of his torch Martin recognized the man of the twitching mouth and his tall thin companion.
"Ah!" It was an expulsion of breath from the tall man—he fairly gasped in his evident terror.
"What the—" began he of the twitching mouth.
"Stick 'em up!" Martin ordered, rather disliking the use of this gangster phrase, but guessing it would be most effective for those he had to deal with. "Stick 'em up and keep 'em up. I've got you covered!"
This was true in the sense that the rays of Martin's torch completely covered the two rascals, and then the boy leveled his short black club at them. They must have thought it was a sawed-off shotgun, for their hands went quickly up above their heads.
Then Martin suddenly gave a great shout.
"Terry! Warren! Come on up here! I've got 'em!"
Answering shouts from his chums came through the still night air, and in another moment Martin heard their feet thudding on the stairs leading up into the tower windmill.
"Caught!" muttered the thin man with a snarl.
"Maybe we can make a break for it," whispered Trembling Mouth.
"Don't try it!" snapped Terry as he and Warren came upon the two with raised hands.
"Unless you want to get hurt!" advised Warren. "Keep the gun on 'em, Mart," he added, guessing that his chum was using the club in masquerade for a more deadly weapon.
"The gun is on," answered Martin. "Search 'em, boys, while I keep 'em covered and then tie 'em up. They brought their own rope," he chuckled.
CHAPTER XXVIII The Secret
THOROUGHLY cowed by their fears and surprise, as much as by the resolute bearing of the three boys, the two men submitted without a fight to being searched. On each one was founded a loaded automatic. But they were in pockets not easy to reach, from which fact it was concluded that there was no intention of using them on the boys.
The hands of Twitching Mouth and his tall thin companion were securely bound behind them, and not until then did Martin and his chums have a chance to find out the secret of the tower. Even then they did not learn all the secret at once.
But by using their flashlights they discovered how Hardy and Blunt had gotten in so mysteriously. On the northwest side of the tower there was a false inner wall, for what purpose was not immediately apparent. Between the inner and outer walls was a space sufficiently large to permit a man coming up by means of a ladder.
While Warren and Terry guarded the two prisoners, their clubs now augmented by the two automatics which they hoped they would have no occasion to use, Martin went down the secret ladder. It ended at a platform below the floor of the old mill and near a trapdoor which covered a dark hole in the ground.
"I'll wait until morning to investigate that," Martin decided.
But it was now plain how the men got in without using doors or windows. They came up through the hole in the ground, though whither that led was yet to be discovered, and climbed up the ladder between the two walls, so gaining access to the space above the boys’ bedroom. There was a well-concealed trapdoor at the top of the ladder, and it was the opening of this that had first attracted Martin's attention as he kept his vigil.
There was another small, round trap in the floor of the open space that could not be discovered from the ceiling of the bedroom. And it was through this little trap, or panel, that the noosed ropes were lowered for lassoing purposes.
"Though why in the world they played such a trick I can't imagine, unless it was just to scare us out of here," Martin said to his chums, coming back from his investigation and reporting what he had found.
"That was the idea, of course," said Terry. "But why?"
"Are you going to tell us?" Warren asked the two prisoners.
"We'll tell you nothing!" snarled Trembling Mouth.
"All right, you can tell it to the judge," said Martin.
"Say, you boys," began the thin man, "we didn't mean any harm. It was just a joke. I've got a hundred in my pocket. It's yours if you let us go."
"Nothing doing!" declared Martin.
"We're going to get to the bottom of this!" announced Terry.
"And then we can go in for racing in a big way!" chuckled Warren.
The secret door was closed, as was the opening into the bedroom, and then the prisoners were marched down the regular stairs.
"Look how they fooled us!" said the thin man when the dummies in the beds were seen.
"I didn't think they were that clever," said Trembling Mouth.
When the prisoners realized that the boys were going to take them to the police in the flivver, since it was a lonely trip to the nearest telephone to summon the authorities, the offer of a bribe, in an increased amount, was made again. But of course the boys refused it.
The men were forced to get in the rear of the station wagon. Their feet were tied, and then, with Terry and Warren to guard them, Martin drove through the still darkness of the night to the Salina police headquarters. That the somewhat bucolic officers there were surprised, need not be stated. It can be accepted as a fact.
"What's the charge against them?" asked the sergeant on night duty, as some of his reserve men brought the prisoners in.
"Trying to hang us," said Martin.
"You mean lynch you?"
"No, not as serious as that," and Martin explained. "But I think there will be other charges lodged against these men in the morning. They didn't try to noose us to scare us out of there for nothing. There's something back of it."
"I guess maybe you're right," agreed the sergeant. "I'll hold 'em. Good work, boys!"
And in the morning, when news of the arrest was told, the rest of the secret came out.
Put through what in a detective story might be called the third degree, Hardy and Blunt confessed. They were only tools or go-betweens for more important criminals. And these men were the ones who had been systematically robbing the mines of the salt crystals; those semiprecious stones which formed a considerable source of revenue to the operating company.
The manager of the mine which the boys had visited came to police headquarters and told some of the lacking details, following the quick arrest of the real thieves.
"There was a gang of dishonest miners who would take these crystals," the manager said, "and pass them to Hardy and Blunt, who got into the tunnels and shafts through the old mines out near the tower. Once they had the stones, Hardy and Blunt would make their way, along abandoned shafts, tunnels, and workings, to a secret passage that led up into the tower windmill." It was not disclosed whether the thieves made this passage or whether it had existed for some time.
At any rate, this was how the crystals were gotten out of the mines and into the hands of the go-betweens, who disposed of them for the real thieves, sharing in the money. Of course when there were honest tenants in Mr. Harfield's old tower mill, the man with the twitching mouth and his thin companion ran the risk of discovery. So they hit upon the plan of scaring away, in the night, by means of the rope trick, any who might be sleeping there.
Just before the boys arrived and rented the tower, a big haul of crystals was on the point of being made. And to make as certain as possible the success of the venture, Hardy and Blunt decided to rent the tower themselves. But they were just too late. So they had to go back to their old rope-scaring racket.
"But you boys were too clever for them," the salt mine manager said. "And I might add," he went on, "that we had offered a reward for the detection of the crystal thieves. Of course you boys will get that."
"Then we're in luck even if we don't win a race," said Terry.
"But we're going to win that race!" declared Martin.
"Sure!" echoed Warren.
So the tower secret was disclosed. Mr. Harfield said he never knew that his old mill had these hidden passages in it, and he was wholly unaware that it could be entered from one of the old abandoned salt mines. But such was the case.
Hardy and Blunt, with the real thieves, were sent to jail to await trial. The former declared they had no intention of doing more than scare away occupants of the tower. This may have been true. But if the dangling rope had gotten around someone's neck instead of his feet and been pulled hard, injury might have resulted.
"Well, now we can sleep in peace," said Terry, with a sigh of satisfaction as they went to bed the night before the day of their race.
"There'll be no peace as long as Jake Lawson is around here," said Warren. "But at least he had nothing to do with the tower secret."
"He may have something to do with the race," Martin said, significantly.
CHAPTER XXIX The Race
OUTBOARD motors were puttering and spluttering all around them. Men, young and old, were hurrying to and fro, some wearing clean white suits and with clean hands and faces, others with dirty white suits and dirty hands and faces, smudged with grease and oil. The water of Salina Bay was being churned to foam in some places and in others was calm and peaceful. Boats of all sizes, from those hardly a dozen feet in length, which looked like bugs with a kicking motor hanging on behind, to large cabin cruisers, were plying back and forth from one dock or float to another. Star's boathouse, where Martin, Terry, and Warren had assembled early, was a scene of great activity.
It was another day of the outboard-motor regatta at Salina, but it was more than just a day—it was the day when the three chums were to take part in the big race—at least it was big to them.
The night had passed peacefully. There were no more rope scares, for the criminals responsible for them were safely locked up. The boys slept well and were on edge for the contest.
Their race would take place shortly before noon. Before that, several deciding events were to be run off, in one of which Mr. Tenchard was to take part. He was getting his Butterfly in good condition and nodded a greeting to the three chums as they got their motor and took it to the Rulo.
As on the previous days of the racing, all the officials were at their posts, the referee, clockman, chronometer man, gunner, flagman, scorers, timers and their recorders, and a number of press representatives. The clock, with its big face and hand, was erected on a float just back of the starting line. The three buoys, set in a triangle, were anchored in their places. The buoys could be anchored in different positions according to the length of each leg of the triangle.
"Well, lads, all set?" asked Mr. Tenchard as he began to test his motor.
"We're ready," Martin announced.
"Heard you did a good piece of work out at the old tower," went on the racing man. "Glad of it."
"Well, we had luck," said Terry.
Almost before the three chums had time to test their outboard engine, the first race of the day was on. It was for a class of boats of particularly broad beam, drawing very little. They were very speedy. Off they started, crossing the line on very even terms at the drop of the white flag and the simultaneous reports of two guns.
The racing officials at Salina Bay used a double system of letting the racers know they were all set for the start. A white flag dropped and at the same time two guns were fired. The flag might not be seen by some drivers, but they would hear the gun. And the use of two guns was in case one might miss fire.
"There they go!" exclaimed Mr. Tenchard, as he and the boys looked across from Star's dock, which was near the starting line.
It was a fast and furious contest. One boat, the Golden Moon, took the lead and kept it.
"That's Dace Blancberg," Mr. Tenchard announced to the boys. "He's likely to win this race." The prediction came true.
In the next race there was an accident, one of several similar ones. A driver, turning too sharply, upset and was shot into the water. But a rescue boat had him aboard in short order.
"That's one of the things to expect in a regatta like this," said Mr. Star, who came around to see if he could do anything for the three boys. But they were, as Martin said, "all set."
Mr. Tenchard went out a little later, and though it took three heats to decide his race, he captured two of them and so won his prize, a substantial sum, for it was one of the most important races of the day.
"It'll soon be time for us," remarked Terry, a bit nervously.
"Don't let it get you," advised Martin.
"Our outboard never ran sweeter," said Warren, for they had been trying it out between races. "We're going to win."
"And we've decided," Martin added to Mr. Tenchard, whom they congratulated, "to take the cruiser as the trophy for our race, if we win it, instead of the money."
"I think you're wise," agreed the racing man. The prize for the class of boats like the Rulo was the choice of a small cabin cruiser boat, which could be run by an outboard motor, or a sum of money equivalent to its value. "If you took the money, assuming that you win the race," Mr. Tenchard went on, "you would probably soon spend it. But the cruiser will give you a lot of pleasure."
"Sure will," declared Terry.
"Besides, we don't want to be classed as professionals just yet," laughed Martin.
"Well, professionalism in outboard-motor racing isn't exactly like professionalism in baseball or tennis," said Mr. Tenchard. "We haven't got it well enough organized for that yet. Of course there are professionals in it. I suppose I am one. But don't get worried, boys. Take it easy. I think you have a good chance from what I have seen of the other boats in this event. And don't be disappointed if you can't take two straight heats. Even I didn't do it."
This comforted the trio of chums. They again went over all the parts and connections of their motor, received some last-minute suggestions from Mr. Tenchard, and then had to leave to take their place back of the starting line.
Hardly had they reached it, working themselves into the position assigned to them by lot, a position on the extreme left of the six boats in this race, when they saw Jake Lawson and Al Barton coming up to take a place next to them. This race was for boats containing a driver and a mechanic. It was to be run in three heats, or, in case any boat took two in succession, that would end the affair. The course was, as in most of the other races, a triangular one, each leg being a mile in length. It was to be run, not by computing the best time made by each boat, but by the crossing of the finish line.
Whichever boat crossed the finish line twice, ahead of all the others, would be the winner. The second and third places would be judged in like manner.
There were six boats lined up waiting for the flag to fall or the gun to sound, telling the drivers to get going. There was the Rulo with Martin at the wheel and Terry at the engine. In the other heats Warren would have his chance. Next came the Rooster with Jake Lawson at the wheel and Al Barton to look after the motor. The other entries were, in the order of placement, Turtle, Grab Bag, Oh Boy, and Sweetheart.
The three chums did not know, except by sight, any of the drivers or mechanics in the four last boats. And they would have been just as well satisfied if they didn't know Lawson and his crony.
The preparatory signal was given. Martin tensed himself at the wheel, and Terry gave a final look at the motor, which was all ready for the test. In the Rooster, Jake and Al were laughing, and Jake said, loudly enough to be heard by those in the Rulo:
"I wonder if they think they have a chance."
"They've got nerve if you ask me!" taunted Al.
Martin and Terry did not appear to have heard the sneers.
"It's almost time," said Terry in a low voice. He had seen the white flag go up at the judges' stand near the starting line. This indicated that there would elapse just one minute before the start.
It was the longest minute they had ever lived through, so Martin and Terry said later.
All the eyes of all the drivers and mechanics in those six little boats were on that white flag. A quarter-minute passed. Then a half. The three-quarter mark was reached.
The chronometer man's count was approaching the sixtieth second. The men with the guns began to crook their fingers. The man at the flag wet his lips and took a breath in readiness to drop the emblem.
"Sixty!" counted the man at the chronometer.
Down went the flag!
Two reports sounded as one, and a little cloud of white smoke floated out over Salina Bay.
The Rulo leaped forward like a live creature. So did the Rooster and the other boats.
The race was on!
CHAPTER XXX Defeat and Victory
ALMOST on even terms, the six little racers, gathering speed each second, leaped toward the starting line and crossed it with so little advantage for any particular entry that it might almost be called a perfect start.
Approaching the first buoy, near which was stationed a boat of the judges, neither of the six craft had any gain over its competitors. The first turning buoy was located about fifteen hundred feet from the starting line. A mile from this was the second buoy. And a mile from the second was the third with the official stand, or, rather float, five hundred feet away.
In traveling that fifteen hundred feet a change of positions occurred. Whether by purpose or accident, the Rooster fell a little back of the Rulo, and the Sweetheart forged ahead of all the others.
"Nothing to worry about yet," reasoned Martin as he settled himself in a more comfortable position.
"There'll be a real test when we round the second buoy." Terry was thinking the same thing. If you have (as doubtless you have) witnessed a chariot race in a circus, you remember that the team nearest the inside of the big oval, while ahead as it reaches a turn, always has to drop back after the turn. For the outside four can cut in while the inside four have to swing out wide to avoid overturning.
It was that way in this first heat of the race. The Rulo had the inside position approaching the second buoy. Martin hoped he might keep it, but as he tried he found the strain too much. The Rulo gave indications of wanting to flop over, so Martin had to swing wide, as did the Rooster, Turtle, and Grab Bag, so that the Sweetheart, which had lost the small advantage it gained, swung now into the lead.
The six craft were going so fast that, almost before the drivers and mechanics realized it, they were foaming down toward the second buoy. And foaming they were. For the powerful outboards, thrusting the churning propellers into the dense salt water of Salina Bay, fairly lifted the bows of each craft far out of the element, and the foam was like soapsuds following the stern of each competitor.
On and on they raced, around the third buoy and then on toward the finish line. The Rulo had regained the lead, but the Sweetheart and the Rooster were right on her heels. Slowly the Rooster crept up.
"By golly! Jake's going to win this heat!" thought Terry with a sinking heart. But Martin had the least bit of speed in reserve, and as he and his chum strained forward, trying, as it were, to thrust their craft forward, the Rulo, throttle opened to the limit, slid over the line a winner with the Rooster second and the Sweetheart third.
"Some race!" cried Warren as his chums directed the Rulo toward the float where he awaited them. "Good work!"
"We still have work to do," Martin said. "Got to win another heat. You go out this time, Warren."
"No. You and Terry."
"All right." Since coming to Salina, Terry and Warren had rather fallen into the habit of letting Martin direct matters in a crisis. His handling of the tower matter showed him to be a good organizer.
While waiting for the calling of the second heat in the race just finished, another contest in a different class was put on. This gave not only the three chums but their two sets of remaining opponents a chance to overhaul their outboards, put in more gas and oil, and inspect their boats.
Since only three of the six contestants had qualified, there would be but three entries in the second heat for the class of boats of the Rulo style. In a short time she would again have to match her speed with that of the Sweetheart and the Rooster.
Terry and Warren were too busy, as was Martin in helping them to check things over to be in readiness for the second heat, to pay any attention to the next race. It had no entrants in whom they were interested.
Again came the signal for the Rulo, the Sweetheart, and the Rooster to get ready. The time of the first heat was officially posted as four minutes and thirty-two seconds for the three miles, which was considered very good.
"How do you feel, Wawa?" asked Terry of his chum as they were waiting for the preliminary signal.
"Terrible! Nervous, I mean."
"So do I! But hold hard!"
"I will! Don't worry!"
Again the chronometer man began counting. The white flag had gone up in readiness to be dropped.
"Sixty!" was shouted.
The guns snapped, the flag fell, and the three boats leaped forward. They kept on almost even terms up to the time they rounded the second buoy. Terry was steering, and Warren, at the engine, was straining his eyes for any faltering. But there was none.
Forward the three leaped. The Sweetheart now took the lead, and with sinking hearts Terry and his chums realized that they were on the point of being beaten in this heat. Then came a roar from behind them and the Rooster, with Reba at the wheel in place of Jake, who had replaced Barton at the motor, came surging along.
"By golly! Jake's going to win this!" thought Terry.
The Rooster crept up close to the Rulo, but Terry opened the throttle to the limit. His craft shot ahead and might have taken the advantage from the Rooster had not Reba, at that moment, swerved so near the Rulo as to give the occupants of her the impression there would be a collision. In desperation Terry swung wide and lost the advantage he had. The Rooster crossed the finish line victor in that heat, with the Sweetheart third. This eliminated her, under the special rules in force, and meant that the Rulo and Rooster would fight the matter out in the third and probably deciding heat, unless there was a tie.
Terry and Warren were splutteringly angry when they drew up at the float where Martin awaited them.
"I'm going to claim a foul against Jake!" cried Terry as he told what had happened.
"We sure will!" agreed Warren.
"No, don't," Martin quickly advised. "Oh, it was a foul, I believe," he was quick to say, "but it will be hard to prove, and it always gums things up at a regatta. Let it go and beat Jake badly this next heat."
"If he's going to be beaten you've got to take the wheel, Martin!" said Terry. "I'm so mad I can hardly see straight."
"Let Warren steer, then," suggested Martin.
"No," Terry answered. "You let Warren stay at the engine. He's the best of us three in case anything mechanically wrong happens, and you're the coolest in a pinch, Martin, when it comes to the wheel. You and Warren are going to beat Jake."
"All right. I'll do my best," Warren said.
"So will I," promised Martin.
Mr. Tenchard came down to their boat and, hearing what had happened, agreed that they had taken the right course.
"But I’ll pass the word quietly to the judges," he said, "to watch the Rooster carefully in this heat. If this Lawson tries any funny business he'll be disqualified so quickly he won't know which end he's standing on."
This heartened the boys, and as they worked over their outboard, put in fresh oil, and replenished the gas, testing the flow and checking along all points, their determination was firm to administer a beating to the bully and his unprincipled companion.
There was a large crowd now on hand to watch the last heat of the contest between the Rulo and Rooster, for word of the rivalry between the two parties had spread. And more than one professional driver had noted, though he did not deem it wise to report, the almost palpable foul in the second heat.
"Well, Terry, here we go," said Warren as he and Martin took their places, with Martin at the wheel as in the first heat.
"Good luck!" wished Terry. "I'll be rooting for you!"
The start was perfect, the Rulo and Rooster getting over the line exactly together. And then each driver, Martin in one case and Reba in the other, set a fast pace from the very start.
At the first buoy the Rooster gained a little, but she lost this lead at the second marker, and Martin was quick to take advantage of the opening. Down toward the third buoy they bounced, for the water was choppy now and getting rougher.
"Watch him, Martin!" cried Warren after a quick glance over his shoulder at the rival Rooster. "He's coming fast and may try to foul us again."
"I'm watching!" shouted Martin, his lips closed in a grim line.
Faster and faster! On and on! The two boats, close together, almost in line, seemed to leap more than half their lengths out of the water. The third buoy was passed, and still they were even. They were approaching the finish line. Then, as before, Reba shifted his wheel the least little bit. At once the Rooster swerved over toward the Rulo, but Martin did not deviate from the straight course he was on. In a flash he realized that this was a bluff on the part of Reba. A dangerous bluff, but a bluff none the less. He was too near the boat of the judges to risk perpetrating a foul that could easily be detected.
"He wants to scare us," reasoned Martin, "just as those rope men tried to scare us out of the tower. Well, I'm not going to be scared!"
The throttle was opened to the limit. It seemed as if the Rulo would leap entirely out of Salina Bay and finish the race in the air.
But she did not. She remained in her proper element, and Martin and Warren crossed the finish line ahead of the Rooster by a good three lengths.
It was a decisive victory after the defeat of the second heat.
There was a great cheer from the spectators in which Terry and Mr. Tenchard joined enthusiastically. Then up went the official decision.
"Rulo wins! Time 4:29. Rooster disqualified for attempted foul, and her owner and driver disqualified from ever again racing in Salina regattas."
"Whew!" whistled Terry as this news circulated. "I guess that will hold Jake Lawson for a while."
"Serves him and Reba right," declared Mr. Tenchard. "Outboard racing is too clean a sport to have it spoiled by such fellows. And I want to congratulate you, Martin and Warren, on driving in a great race. Do you know what you did?"
"Oh, pulled some kind of a boner, I suppose," laughed Martin.
"Boner nothing! Your time of 4:29 for the three miles bettered your first heat by three seconds, and it sets a national record for boats in the class you entered. Boys, you did a good job!"
"I knew Martin could do it!" cried Terry.
"Don't forget Warren," said Martin. 'There was a time when it was touch and go, rounding that third buoy. But he balanced just right, and we didn't go over as I was afraid we would. Warren won this race as much as I did."
"Well, it's won, anyhow!" laughed Terry.
And won it was. Jake and his cronies sneaked away following the announcement of their foul tactics.
The remainder of the regatta at Salina Bay, while it held some interest for the three chums, was almost forgotten when they received the order for the new cruiser type of outboard boat they had so cleverly won.
"What we can't do now is nobody's business!" exulted Terry as he looked at the order, which was on the same firm from whom they had purchased the Rulo.
"What'll we do with a cruiser?" asked Warren.
"We'll go on a trip," declared Martin.
This they did, and what happened on it will be told in the next volume of this series, to be called: The Outboard Boys on a Strange Cruise: or, Finding the Lost Treasure. The three chums experienced some exciting adventures.
"Well, it's been a great trip," remarked Warren a few days after their successful race, when they were packing up in the mystery tower (mysterious no longer, however) to go back to Stirling.
"Best we ever had," agreed Martin.
"But wait until we get that cabin cruiser!" said Terry.
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.